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.