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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nick and Norah Have Way More Glamorous Lives Than You had a fantastic sale on YA books last weekend--basically the sort of stuff that usually ends up on the bargain shelf near the front of the the store. They had three books for $9.99, in many cases hardcovers, and so I decided this was a good chance to expand my reading in the field.

They had almost no YA speculative fiction, though--or at least, almost none that wasn't about vampires or otherwise unappealing to me--so I ended up with a couple of books that are outside of what I write.

The books arrived yesterday, and I went ahead and read through one of them--the thin Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. I chose it partly *because* it was so thin--if this book is much over 60,000 words, I'll eat my laptop--and partly because I'd seen and been intrigued by the movie poster already. (Say, whatever happened to that movie? Did it come out and tank? Has it not come out yet? Also, why does every book get turned into "A Major Motion Picture"? If every book is "a major motion picture," doesn't that make it a little less "major"? Will I ever see a book cover boasting "Now a Run-of-the-Mill Motion Picture"?)

The title is an effective one, for me anyway; I think I was hooked from the first time I read it on the poster. It's hard to explain why it works for me, but I think the crux is that it's so unconventional, it suggests the movie/novel with have an offbeat sensibility that will resonate well with me.

The book wasn't really all that offbeat. The narrative was a bit unconventional, largely because of the way it was co-authored. Apparently Rachel Cohn and David Levithan took turns writing chapter by chapter, alternating the POVs of the two protagonists. (I'm under the impression that Levithan wrote Nick's chapters and Cohn wrote Norah's, but I'm too lazy to double-check.) I thought Levithan did a fantastic job of setting Cohn up with hooks at the end of most of the Nick chapters--it reminded me of that improv game where one comedian throws another one a total blindside right before turning the story over, just to see the other react.

As I mentioned, this was outside of my usual reading habits--which is cool. I used to read much more widely than I do now. This is very much in the genre of teen romance that has become so hot in the last two or three years. I have read a little romance, but not the teen variety. I also read enough *about* the teen romance scene on the blogosphere that it's refreshing to see one partly written by a male author, and featuring a sensitive male protagonist.

I've been hearing for two or three years that YA titles had gotten a lot more racy, and not really seen evidence for that in my own YA reading. But then, the YA I read is almost exclusively speculative fiction. With this book, I did see evidence for that. There were three instances of frustrated near-fellatio, neither of the protagonists is a virgin, and the casual assumption that virtually no eighteen-year-old is seems evident. The assumed audience for YA novels is two or three years younger than the protagonists are, so my own kids are a bit young for this book yet. Would I want them reading it in three or four years? um . . . I don't know. I can see parents of intelligent, well-read, sophisticated teens being okay with it. I guess it depends on the kid and the parent and the level of discourse that already goes on between the two.

There's also a sense, I think, that artistic lives are somehow more pure than more mundane lives, as evidences by the unquestioned disdain the characters feel for people with corporate jobs midtown. Hey, somebody has to do those jobs. We can't all be Bohemians.

I rather enjoyed the opening hook--Nick, a bassist in a "queer-core" band, sees his ex-girlfriend show up at the end of one of his shows, and, in order to avoid confronting her after the show, asks the girl standing next to him, Norah, to be his five-minute-girlfriend. The plot takes some interesting twists to extend their time together, bit by bit, until they end up spending pretty much the whole night together, going from one New York spot to another. The major tensions are more or less resolved two-thirds of the way through, and the remainder drags on and verges on anticlimactic. We have the last of the near-fellatios, the decision by the protagonists to wait before introducing sex to their relationship, and a rather contrived minor tension where Norah begins to wonder if Nick might be gay. But we pretty much know their relationship will continue beyond this first night.

I have to think I read this book the way it was meant to be read. I began reading it around eleven at night, and finished around two in the morning. I recommend reading it this way, as it lead me to feel that my own body mirrored the protagonists' tiredness, beginning their adventure at what could easily have been the end of an already-eventful night, and their happy exhaustion by the end of the story. It's such a short book that you can read it in a single sitting, and the extended denouement doesn't really bother you that much.

I also enjoyed the setting, since I love New York City so much--although Nick's ridiculous luck in finding free parking in the city strains credulity.

The insert of full-color photos in the middle of the book was a delightful bit of nostalgia for me. I can't remember the last time I read a book that included "scenes from the movie," but it's certainly been a long time. And yet, the photos irritated me because I could see from the captions that the filmmakers made significant changes to the plotline, and that those changes appeared to make the film more formulaic. It's funny how that always seems to happen, isn't it?

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