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REVIEW: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and...

Dear Ms. Cohn and Mr. Levithan:

book review I was bemoaning to Jayne in email that I wish I was more adventurous because maybe I would have read this book sooner, particularly when it was given special treatment at Smart Bitches Trashy Books. While I like Young Adult books, the idea of reading alternating first person present tense narratives with heavy music overtones never held alot of appeal to me. Let me get the confession out of the way.

I have very unsophisticated music tastes. I generally listen to the radio and I like one hit wonders. I don’t know the difference between Alternative and Indie music. I never mixed a tape for someone and I don’t think anyone ever mixed a tape for me, at least not a boy anyone. I don’t know what made the Beatles great or the mystique behind Kurt Cobain. I wouldn’t be able to carry on an intelligent conversation about music at any stage, not classical, not current. Like I can laugh on at this line but I don’t know exactly what it means:

." Hunter Does Hunter have accelerated the lite-FM classic song (because how much more punk can you go than producing an elevator song staple-’bless you, Billie Joe) up to Parliament tempo and I swear there’s a DJ mixing a sample of that Michael Jackson freak moaning about how Billie Jean is not my lover, the kid is not my son into the groove.

Parliament tempo? But despite my naif-ish musicality, I still enjoyed the hell out of this book.

What ultimately got me to read this book was the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation. Yes, the movie trailer tells a completely different story than the book but I didn’t know it at the time and I don’t care now, having read the book.

This story isn’t about the music. It’s not even about teens, even though its protags are teens. The story is about love and the illusions we create for ourselves about love. The story is the melody, the music is the bass, and Nick and Norah are the blending harmonies. First, though, is cacophony.

Nick was dumped by his girlfriend, his muse, three weeks ago. “Three weeks, two days, and twenty-three hours ago” to be precise. He’s a bass player and he’s spent the six months previous to that three weeks, writing her songs, poetry, making her the center of his young universe and now he feels broken. What is worse is that she has shown up to one of his shows with the new model and he feels desperate.

. My breath is still used to catching when I see her and the light is angled just right. My body is still used to hers moving next to mine. So the distance-’anything short of contact-’is a constant rejection. . . And then she’d said, No, I’m tired of you, and I slipped into the surreal-but-true universe where we were over and I wasn’t over it. She was no longer any kind of here that I could get to.

He finds himself, post gig, standing next to a girl dressed in a big flannel shirt. He asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend for five minutes so he can brazen his way through an encounter with Tris, the ex. Initially her response to Nick is rejection:

The incidental fact of his straightness doesn’t mean I want to be NoMo’s five-minute girlfriend, like I’m some 7-Eleven quick stop on his slut train.

Norah, the flannel wearing girl, is a music staple whose identity most people know. She’s “the daughter of an Englewood Cliffs-livin’, fat-cat record company CEO“. She doesn’t need a fake ID in lower manhatten because of who she is. She is also a classmate of Tris and the best friend of Caroline and ex girlfriend of Tal. She recognizes Nick as Tris’ ex. The boyfriend everyone wished they had:

She’s the reason he will probably become an embittered old fuck before he’s even of legal drinking age, distrusting women and writing rude songs about them, and basically from here into eternity thinking all chicks are lying cheating sluts because one of them broke his heart. He’s the type of guy that makes girls like me frigid. I’m the girl who knows he’s capable of poetry, because like I said, there are things I just know. I’m the one who could give him that old-fashioned song title of a thing called Devotion and True Love (However Complicated), if he ever gave a girl like me a second glance.

And then:

On the other hand, perhaps I could make a project out of Nick, detox him from Tris, rehabilitate him, put him through a good-girlfriend immersion program. I like sevens-’we could go steady like all sweet and nice, for seven days instead of minutes. Then I’ll set him free, less the Tris baggage, molded and perfected into the great guy I know he is under those Tris-heavy eyes. He’ll be my gift to womankind, an ideal male specimen of musicianship and making out. I’ll send him back out into the world thoroughly cleansed of irony, no longer holding all females in contempt as potential Tris suspects

All of these help us define Norah in her many complexities. She’s the straight arrow to Caroline’s wild ways. She’s the sometime tormentor of Tris who torments her back. She’s the girl who seems totally together until the ex boyfriend shows up. Then we learn she is also the girl who turned down an offer from Brown to go to a kibbutz in South Africa because she wants to show her ex (Tal) that she can be the good Jewish girl he wants her to be even if she’s a lousy lay with unintelligent and unsophisticated opinions, according to him. She makes desperate attempts to keep Tal in her life because it is the only reality of love that she can get. After all, “My parents have also done me the misfortune of being happily married for a quarter century, which no doubt dooms my own prospects of ever experiencing true love. Gold is not struck twice.”

So the story is that Nick and Norah get thrown together for a night, their lives bound together by their love for music during which they realize two of the greatest illusions about love: the ones you create for yourself and the ones we allow others to create for us. Nick finally recognizes that his devotion to Tris wasn’t because of Tris but because of what he felt with Tris. Norah realizes that she’s adopted someone else’s reality for herself, making her believe that she’s loveless because the one she thinks should love her doesn’t love her for who she is.

The things that detract from this story is the occasional corny line from Nick. I wasn’t sure if it was intentional because no one can be prosaic all of the time or whether it was an example of trying to hard.

I move my feet, turn away from her, try to pretend she’s not there, which is the biggest fucking joke I’ve ever not laughed at.

The excerpts give the right impression that this story is foul mouthed and highly sexualized. No drugs, no alcohol but definite sex and cursing. It fit though, and made the story authentic.

I inhaled this story. It’s about a poet and a dreamer and a girl who is so smart about everything else, but also so emotionally vulnerable. It’s the best kind of romance because at the end of the book, I am convinced that this teen couple, like Norah’s parents (nice foreshadowing) will make it forever. Nick is the is the one that would keep the relationship together and Norah is the one that would make it alive. B+

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

22 Comments

  1. Ana
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 06:36:16

    What a great review, Jane. Totally sold on this. Thanks

  2. Angela James
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 08:01:00

    This is the book that I for some reason downloaded a sample to my Kindle. hit the end and hit “buy now” and kept on going until it was done. Like you, I inhaled it and I’m not a YA fan by any stretch, but I think you nailed it when you said it’s not about teens, it’s about the things we blind ourselves into believing we can’t live without.

    And I love the last line of your review:

    Nick is the is the one that would keep the relationship together and Norah is the one that would make it alive.

    Yes.

  3. Jane
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 08:23:26

    I was so glad it was an ebook because I saw the trailer late at night. but was able to buy the bookand read it instantaneously. Woot

  4. Kathryn Smith
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 09:10:57

    Jane, thanks for this review. I’ve seen the trailer (love that Michael Cera) and saw the book at Borders. Next time I know to pick it up.

  5. Gennita Low
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 09:51:59

    Thanks for reviewing this. I was torn about whether I wanted to read emo-teen stuff about music, and your excerpts helped me make up my mind. I like the “voice.”

  6. Lorelie
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 10:19:06

    So is this an appropriate book to give a fairly sheltered 15yo who absolutely adored the Twilight series, even if she’s not that into music?

  7. Christine
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 10:19:07

    Thanks for the review, Jane. I’m always on the lookout for an exceptional YA novel for both myself and my teen to read. I think I’ll have to read this one first, though, in order to gauge if the sexuality is appropriate for my daughter right now at age 13, but I’m really drawn to the fact that this story addresses love and our illusions–or even disillusions–about love. That’s an important message.

  8. Jane
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 10:30:03

    I don’t know who it is appropriate, age wise. It has a definite no drugs, no alcohol message and it’s not pro sex because Norah has a definite dysfunction due to sex but it’s clear that Norah and Nick will have a sexual relationship even if it’s not a one night stand.

  9. Angela James
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 10:34:36

    I was going to say the same as Jane, but if your 15 y/o has read Meyer, where the heroine actually has a child, doesn’t she?, you might not have too many objections. I did find it realistic to teen relationships.

  10. Moth
    Sep 17, 2008 @ 10:41:01

    Re: Appropriateness for sheltered teens. (Semi-spoilery)
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    I think it’s appropriate to mention that Nick and Norah have an intense make out session and she’s got his pants down and is about two seconds away from going down on him when they’re interrupted. Also, there’s a girl on girl kiss.
    *
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    END SPOILER

    I personally had no problem with the sexual elements (and wouldn’t have had were I still a teen) and they jibed well with the rest of the story. I just want people who might be sensitive to those things to be aware.

    I liked this book. The business with his jacket was really cute and I believed their relationship’s development. Both writers had great voices.

  11. Ciar Cullen
    Sep 18, 2008 @ 09:09:14

    Incredible book. And I’m so glad they’ve cast what’s his name from Arrested Development in the film. Gives me hope. Great review!

  12. Lorelie
    Sep 18, 2008 @ 09:27:42

    She’s not exactly *my* 15yo, she’s my SIL. And I was under the impression that Bella and Edward were married by the time they had a baby? Could be wrong, I only read Twilight. In terms of sheltering, the situation’s a little odd. Her mother doesn’t let her go anywhere or do anything, keeps fairly tight control of the tv, but doesn’t think to keep tabs on reading material. It’s just not on her radar, because she’s not much of a reader herself. So Lisa could “get away” with reading much more than she does.

    I guess the message is that I’m going to have to be responsible and pre-screen before considering it for a Christmas present.

  13. RachaelfromNJ
    Sep 18, 2008 @ 11:52:54

    Great review! I’ve seen the commercials for the movie and didn’t know it was a book! Sounds so good. I loved the excerpts you posted. It really gave me a taste of the writing and an idea of what it’s like. Sounds great!

  14. SonomaLass
    Sep 18, 2008 @ 16:00:02

    My 17-year-old loved this book. I recommended it to her based on the Smart Bitches’ review, and she inhaled it. She then insisted that I read it, and I also sucked it down in one evening.

    Oh, and then she asked me for another recommendation from Smart Bitches, so I gave her Wicked Lovely. Win!

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  18. movie fan
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 19:11:29

    there were some awkward moments in this movie that were hard to get past… such as every time that gum was re-used (yuck!)

  19. Jane
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 19:14:23

    movie fan – I agree. The gum was gross and the entire theatre crowd groaned in disgust everytime it was pointed out. I also thought that they used too much silence and emotionally charged looks to convey what the dialogue did in the book. Why not use the dialogue to carry the message instead of lip biting and staring?

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