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Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Posted by Sherry on 4/9/2007 in Young Adult Fiction |

My first impulse here is to issue all kinds of disclaimers: I am NOT a book banner; I am NOT a prude; I am neither a homophobe nor a sexophobe, if there is such a thing as the latter. I’d love for the young adults I know to have fun and fall in love and even have passionate, fulfilling (married) sex. But all the disclaimers in the world will not change the fact that some people are not going to understand why I hated this book —just as I don’t really understand why any discerning reader would like it. So let us procceed to the actual review/rant.

How did I hate this book? Let me count the ways:

I hated the casual vulgarity and pervasive profanity and uncommitted sex, both homo and hetero, and the way that all these evils, yes evils, were portrayed as natural, beautiful, and oh-so-cool.

I hated the absence of parents who cared enough to even be worried about their teenage children who were club-hopping and roaming the streets of New York City all night long. Nick’s parents were hardly mentioned, and Norah’s parents were perfectly happy to have her check in via cell phone at 4:00 A.M.

I hated the lessons in sexual technique that were embedded in the story.

I hated the punk music scene motif where everything and anything could be exused or explained with a song, ususally a song with angry, vulgar, repetitive lyrics.

I hated the unmourned loss of innocence that had overtaken Nick and Norah both before the story even began. I hated whoever was responsible (their parents?) for allowing them to each have an ex-lover, much less have exes who broke their hearts and used their bodies and made them jaded and old before their time.

I hated the hip dialog and occcasional flashes of real insight that covered a vast ocean of spiritual emptiness.

As much as I hated Nick’s and Norah’s jaded worldliness, I hated it even more when they acted and talked like the vulnerable kids they really were because I knew they were going to get hurt —deeply hurt. There’s no father in the story to protect and cherish Norah and teach her to value herself and save her love and her body for someone who will cherish her and love her for more than her ability to kiss and make out and eventually give out good sexual favors. The best Norah’s father can do is chuckle indulgently at her disrespectful repartee and make sure she gets to Brown (university) in the fall.

Oh, yes, I also hated all the casual money —teenagers whose parents do provide one essential: plenty of money to buy them into trouble and possibly out of it. These are essentially careless rich people, shades of The Great Gatsby, who are trying to pretend that honest caring can be found in such an environment.

What did I like about Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist? Not much.

I liked the singing in the rain scene, but that scene led to a sexual encounter, unconsummated but graphic, that would fit right into any garden variety porn magazine with nary so much as a rewrite. So . . . not so much.

I liked some of the names of the characters: Nick, Norah, Thom, Tris, the band called Fluffy. But then there were other band names and nicknames that I can’t even repeat on a G-rated blog. So . . . not so much.

Call me a hater, but the lifestyle that is glorified and rationalized and played back as a beautiful mix of love songs in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is worth hating. And it’s a fake. I can think of any number of things that are likely to happen to two teens roaming the clubs in New York City, using fake ID’s, and playing with fire, sexually speaking. None of those things, all bad, happen to Nick and Norah because Nick and Norah are poster children for a promiscuous and unrepentant lifestyle of sex without commitment and sexuality expressed freely with no rules and no consequences. “See here, young people, you may have to kiss (or have sexual relations with) a few frogs first, but someday across a crowded club, you’ll see your prince or princess and all shall be well.” That’s a lie, and those who’ve tried it know it’s a lie. N&N is propaganda, pure simple, for the Good Life of sex (protected please), no drugs (drugs are out of fashion), and punk instead of rock and roll. You can lose your innocence young and still have an innocent first love —even though it’s not the first.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist won the Cybil Award for Young Adult Fiction. After this review, I probably won’t be asked to judge in any of the categories next year, so I may as well say that I don’t think the book should have ever made it out of the slush pile at any reputable publishing house, much less to the top of any award list. It won’t appeal to a broad cross-section of young adult readers in spite of the steamy sex and emo angst. The young adults I know aren’t looking for either of those things in their reading materials. Nick and Norah won’t last past next year (I hope. I hope.) And it’s a bad book to be enshrined as the first winner of the Cybil for Young Adult Fiction.

I’m sorry, but someone had to say it. I’ve nothing to lose except a few readers, so it may as well be me.

13 Comments

  • Camille says:

    You have described my own reaction to this book much better than I could. I call this genre of YA fiction, Despair fiction because it leaves me feeling empty and sad for teens today.

    I am always interested in readers’ reactions/connections to the books that are supposedly written for them (young people/teens are the intended audience, right?) I actually could not decide if teens REALLY were the audience for this book.

    I know many kids live very tough lives. I cannot begin to imagine some of their despair. Working at a local high school some time ago, I cleared a student leaving school for the impending birth of her child, I was told, often it is their second child.I wonder, would she have found a story here that would have resonated with her? I don’t know.

    I know many arrive at school in various states of chemical alteration, we used to refer to “it.” Would those kids read this book and identify with the characters?

    My own kids never read “realistic fiction” finding more value and echoes for their own lives in Middle Earth so I don’t have a lens to view this through as I do with most genres.

  • Becky says:

    Thanks for the honest review, Sherry.

    I still, at the age of 43, have vivid memories of how haunted, empty, and sad I felt, at age 9 or 10, after reading “Go Ask Alice”, which I read while spending the week at a friend’s house on summer vacation. My friend had more or less absentee parents and few books, and I was desperate for something to read, having finished everything I had packed.

    Sherry, you might be interested in a new blog, Deliciously Clean Reads, at http://cleanreads.blogspot.com .

  • My daughter was a teenager during the 90s. Even then I found I had to be careful to do my homework about much of the juvenile literature (and I’m sure it hasn’t improved).

    I don’t think you are a prude, you are a wise woman.

  • Carmon says:

    I’m glad you told it like it is, Sherry. Such books are pervasive in the young adult section of the library and bookstore, as well as in schools. Letting your children loose in some of those places unsupervised is like letting the walk through a minefield. The unrealistic portrayal of sexuality and intimacy is sadly contributing to nihilism among young people. How can adults contribute to it and posture as if they are only promoting “good literature”?

  • Emily says:

    Wow. Thanks for being honest. You are very brave. This is exactly why I started Deliciously Clean Reads (thanks, Becky). I started several YA and adult books that I simply couldn’t finish because I was horrified by all the sex and swearing. I went searching for a good source of books without these things. I found a few great lists (which I linked to at Clean Reads), but nothing that was updated regularly. So I started the blog, and I’m really excited about how well it is going already.

  • Alena says:

    I completely agree. My husband and I always pick up random books from the library that look like they are going to be great, but then we can’t finish them for exactly that reason. We like to have books that we aren’t afraid to leave around the house and have our little girl pick up and read. We wish there was a disclaimer on books that said what exactly each book contains. That’s the reason we started our blog and the reason we review everything we read, not just the clean books.

  • Josh says:

    Wow. So my guess is that the only really good book you’ve ever read is the Bible? Eh? What with all your mention of (married) sex and “spiritual emptiness”, I can see that you’re right up there with every other prude critic who would trash anything that offends them. Honestly, with all your not-so-subtle Christian undertones in this review, I’m surprised you didn’t mention how much homosexuality is in the book, and how bad that is, too. Or maybe you just wanted to come off as cool and open-minded so people would think you’re unbiased. IF that is the case, you failed, because this review is pollution. If you look at the entire body of classic literature, you’ll find many books that aren’t “clean” or full of Christian values. You know why? Because thats not realistic. Life doesn’t happen like that. Also, my guess is that you’ve never been to a show; a real punk show. So what would you know about that? This book describes so many things accurately; the excitement of seeing your favorite band live, all the intense emotions of a new love, and what its like to have been hurt and be trying to move on. But let me guess… You never felt any of that because you waited until you were married to have sex, and thus, have had nothing but positive emotion and no heartbreak in your life.

  • Kadie says:

    Well said, Josh.

    There isn’t much you can talk about that you haven’t experienced yourself.

    Sex before marriage isn’t evil, it isn’t un fulfilling, it isn’t even spiritually empty.

    But by being so narrow-minded and so incredibly one-sided, you miss out on a ton of experience that could round you better as an individual.

  • Sherry says:

    Josh and Kadie: We disagree. About sex before marriage and probably about many other things. However, “there isn’t much you can talk about that you haven’t experienced yourself.” You don’t believe that anymore than I do. Have you experienced marital sex without the interference of premarital sex? Have you experienced my life? Yet, you feel qualified to evaluate and call me narrow minded and a “prude critic.”

    And by the way if you had taken a half a minute to look at my blog you would have seen that I’ve read and enjoyed a multitude of books other than the Bible, although I will admit to trying to evaluate all of them by Biblical standards. That doesn’t mean that the books I like have to be free of “heartbreak” or evil or even sexual content, either married or not. However, I do not believe that real people would or could act the way Nick and Norah do for very long without very bad consequences, spiritual, emotional, and probably physical.

    So, again, we disagree.

  • Kadie says:

    I respect you for answering me with maturity, thank you for being polite about it.

    However, I suppose we would disagree on a multitude of things.

    And for the record, I never said you were a “prude critic.” I don’t think that at all. I do think you should be more open-minded.

    But I guess you won’t agree with that, which is fine.

    Kadie

  • Samtha says:

    “However, I do not believe that real people would or could act the way Nick and Norah do for very long without very bad consequences, spiritual, emotional, and probably physical.

    So, again, we disagree.”

    Have you ever lived in New York ?
    There are kids hanging out till 5:00 AM.

  • Becky says:

    I loved this review. I didn’t care for this book at all.

  • Kadie says:

    …I don’t imagine anyone here will be going to see the movie?

    I will! Friday night.

    *dances*

    Might even stay out till 4:00 a.m. and call my parents at 4:30.

    Naw, I doubt it. Just wanted to see if anyone here was going to see it.

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