Book Review: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

I loved the movie, and just now got around to reading the book it was based on.  I’m not sure if I would say that the book is better than the movie or that the movie is better than the book, but I would say that both of them capture in different ways and with a different focus the tension that results when two broken people fall in love.  As someone who doesn’t care a lot about New York and doesn’t think of myself as a hip cat who would be as deeply involved in the underground music scene [1] as the main characters of this book, I am surprised that I like this book as much as I do.  And a large part of why I like this book (and the movie) so much is because I can identify a lot with the book, which combines a certain urban Jewish perspective with some pretty intense musical nerdiness and people who are familiar with immensely dysfunctional relationships and complicated friendships.  There’s a lot to appreciate here that this book happens to get right, and if not everyone is likely to enjoy young adult literature like this, I must admit that I can definitely relate to it all too well.

The story this book tells is the complicated romance of a boy and a girl who are just about to graduate from high school who meet cute while watching some queercore bands at a club and pretend to be dating for five minutes in order to make Nick’s ex-girlfriend jealous.  The two of them have an awkward evening of going out and getting to know each other that is complicated by the fact that Nick still has a broken heart from his ex Tris who cheated on him during their relationship and has now dumped him, and by the fact that Norah is someone who is deeply unsure of what she wants and unsure she can genuinely believe in a guy who is both decent as well as passionate and loving.  The two of them awkwardly talk, make out, and try to find themselves and each other during an amazing night where they realize that neither of them wants to run but both of them are willing to take their unusual beginning and see where it goes, doing their best to make life work despite the brokenness of a Yugo, a heart, and one’s sense of dignity.

Where this book particularly excels is the complexity of its characterization.  None of these characters, not even the evil ex Tris or the slutty leader of Nick’s band, is a cardboard figure.  Everyone has their moments of humanity and depth and shows genuine emotion and insight.  Not all novels, especially not novels written to teens and young adults, are able to remember that all characters are heroes in their own mind, even if they are villains in the tales that other people make.  This book gives everyone at least a few pages of having something worthwhile to say and a perspective that is worthwhile at least to understand.  Neither Nick or Norah are entirely pure people, but they understand that to make something last it is worth doing right and not rushing, and they are endearing in their awkwardness and in their longing for genuine human connection in a world that seems full of disposable relationships.  This is a couple that you root for, for their excellent taste in music and for the way that they seem more in need of encouragement than most people do when it comes to matters of courtship and intimacy.  They are timid and awkward and nervous people, and some of us can relate to that all too well.

[1] But see, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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