Book review: ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’

Another late night for me, finishing up Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist — a young adult novel co-written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I had reasonably high expectations of this short novel after reading many glowing reviews all over the place! And, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

We meet two 17-year-olds on the brink of major life changes — Nick, the straight bassist of a “queercore” band who’s desperately attempting to get over his relationship with high-maintenance Tris; and Norah, the daughter of a powerful record exec out for the night with best friend (and perpetual drunk) Caroline in New York City. Nick’s band (the name of which is not entirely appropriate for a little friendly blog like mine!) is playing a gig downtown and we open in the novel with Nick’s thoughts running rampant — Is Tris here? What is she doing here? Is she with someone?

Enter Norah, an innocent bystander at the club trying to keep one eye on Caroline and another on Nick’s performance. While instantly attracted to him, Norah is trying to recover from the recent re-ending of her own relationship — and not really looking for someone new. All the same, Nick feels compelled to not look like a schlub in front of his ex as Tris makes out with her new model-like boyfriend — and he promptly asks Norah to be his “five-minute girlfriend.” When she accepts, bewildered, he plants a giant kiss on her. Enter electricity.

The rest of the book flows through like a modern-day fairytale, I suppose. If you know the surreal quality of the movie “Penelope,” you’ll see what I mean. Nick and Norah journey around Manhattan “falling in and out, and maybe in and maybe out” of love several times. They journey to a strip club featuring provocative nuns (yes), eat at a diner, walk all around the city, sit idly by as Nick’s old car refuses to take them home and hold hands as the first few pink rays of sun begin to light the morning. The tension between them, they explain, is electric — they feel it underneath their fingernails, behind their eyes. It’s all-consuming.

They forget about Tris; they forget about Tal. Norah’s best friend Caroline is left to meander her own way home with two of Nick’s bandmates. They become dead to the world and only alive to each other.

About halfway through the book, I started to feel like maybe it was getting just a little too far-fetched . . . two teenagers wandering alone around the city with barely any money — and no one concerned about where they are and what they’re doing, traipsing around the city with strangers in the middle of the night? But I guess that’s just my own maternal instincts kicking in! Norah does check in with her father later in the book, so that made me feel better. I don’t really know what was up with Nick’s parents; they’re not really a presence in the story.

But putting my nurturing instincts aside, I definitely felt a little swept up with those nacent feelings of young love, lust and want bubbling up inside them. Wanting to know each other — wanting to know everything about each other. Wanting to share yourself with someone so completely, they know every little tiny piece of your thoughts, dreams and ambitions. Suddenly wanting to be more — and wanting to be better — for them. Because they’re now here. And that’s exactly how Nick and Norah come to be Nick & Norah.

Because, as Nick’s friend Dev explains in the story, love isn’t about want-need-sex-pain-heartbreak . . . it’s about wanting to hold hands. And speaking highly of The Beatles, Dev explains:

‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ First single. Fucking brilliant. Perhaps the most fucking brilliant song ever written. Because they nailed it. That’s what everyone wants . . . Not a marriage that lasts a hundred years. Not a Porsche or . . . a million-dollar crib. No. They wanna hold your hand. They have such a feeling that they can’t hide. Every single successful song of the past fifty years can be traced back to ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ And every single successful love story has those unbearable and unbearably exciting moments of hand-holding. Trust me. I’ve thought a lot about this.”

And the novel is sprinkled with little stories like that — little moments of illumination. There are several others that struck me and made me say, “Huh. Yeah. That’s really true.” I wish I’d had a highlighter with me!

The only thing that distracted me a bit from the actual story was the constant, constant cursing. In some cases I can see it was humorous or necessary in some way, but in so many other situations, it was just a little ridiculous. It was like taking a really decent movie — a really funny movie — and throwing in all this blood and gore out of nowhere to add “spice” to the script. I’ll be interested to see how the movie handles many of the “adult” issues the characters grapple with in the book.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 037584614X ♥ Purchase from AmazonRachel Cohn’s Website
David Levithan’s Website

Personal copy purchased by Meg

One thought on “Book review: ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’

  1. I enjoyed the book as well, but I too found the constant swearing to be distracting and I’m not normally bothered by that sort of thing, it moved it from the ‘adding flavour’ category, to the ‘we’re doing it because we can’ stage. And it was that that irritated be more than the cursing itself. Still as I say I was able to overlook it and enjoy the book.


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