This book was SOOOOO GOOD! Like stayed-up-3-hrs-later-than-normal-bedtime-on-a-work-night GOOD! I saw it recommended on Twitter as Pitch Perfect meets She’s the Man (which I am SO HERE FOR) and it is that but SO MUCH MORE. It has the fun a cappella groups, competitions and team bonding from Pitch Perfect. It also has the examination of gender roles, sexism, male privilege and “girl seizing an opportunity open only to males by cross dressing” from She’s the Man. BUT, it also has a Chinese bisexual main character who is an outsider and challenges the norms of the mostly privileged private school world she lives in. She also comes from a super poor family and I don’t know about y’all, but I wish we had more of this in books especially YA. Many books will mention “financial struggles” of characters and although those are valid and I’m sure difficult for the characters, a lot of times this consists of something like “we had to scrimp and save for five years before we could buy a house” or “my parents work hard to afford the private school tuition and we don’t take a family vacation every year anymore.” Right?!?! I’m usually internally rolling my eyes, wondering when I’m going to see more stories that reflects my experience – families that are really poor and struggling to keep the lights on each month. Families that aren’t just poor when the person is young but also as they go off to college and have to work to send money home to keep helping the family eat and pay bills. Families where the adult kids are still helping with bills because one parent is disabled and can’t work and the other parent barely makes minimum wage.
AND THIS STORY HAS THIS AND DOES IT IN SUCH A REAL WAY. I couldn’t believe it when I read it and could relate so much to Jordan’s (the MC) experiences regarding her family finances. She not only has to deal with the normal teenage worries of love interests, homework, getting into a good college, making friends – she also has to deal with her worries about her family and their bills, her guilty feelings that she isn’t helping out enough and is a burden to her family, and her worry about their well-being. Do you know how helpful this would have been to read as a teen? To see that I wasn’t alone? Or even in college when the majority of my classmates came from very privileged backgrounds and talked nonchalantly about their winter houses in France and their summer spent in Europe? It would have been a lifeline that I often needed. It is still an amazing experience to read this kind of story as an adult and connect to Jordan. And I’m happy so many young people will get to read this story and see themselves represented.
One of the aspects of this type of story I especially like is the examination of gender roles and expectations in our society. And this story did a great job of exploring how much Jordan changes the longer she dresses and acts like a boy. She notices how everything changes – how she talks, walks, sits and carries herself. She also notices and calls out toxic masculinity and sexism when she sees it (to an extent – she is also worried about blowing her cover by critiquing the guys around her too much) – the negative ways in which female a cappella groups are talked about, being told to “man up” by a male teacher and the feelings many of the male characters feel they have to hide in order to be a “real man.” Redgate has written a story with so many nuances that add so much to it – it’s one of those stories that would not ever be written by a cis man because they’ve never examined it from the outside looking in.
Jordan is also Chinese, which separates her from many of her classmates at Kensington-Blaine as well. There are other non-white students at the school but it does not sound like there are many of them. This school used to be an all-white, rich male school and we know that kind of institutionalized racism can be hard to get rid of.
During this story, Jordan also acknowledges and has an internal dialogue with herself regarding her cis privilege. She knows that there are no serious, real-life consequences if she doesn’t successfully pass as a boy. From what I can tell, this part was done in a good way and I was happy to see this acknowledged in this type of story because that does not usually happen. However, if any non-cis readers disagree or have an issue with the trans representation in this story, please let me know (I will also keep my eye out for reviews of this book by trans folks). It’s not my role as a cis person to approve of how trans characters and stories are written.
Overall, this is an amazing book that I could not put down and the story is one that will stay with me for a while. This book comes out in May and EVERYONE should read it!
*I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.*