Think of your life having a soundtrack. You have a song that turns up when you know you’re about to discover something big, a different song that plays when your world seems to crumble down, and yet another song that emerges out of nowhere along with the butterflies that suddenly ram against the walls of your tummy. You’re aware that your playlist is on shuffle mode because life is unpredictable. But you also know that as long as you sing along with every track, you’re going to survive until a brand new period of your life requires a brand new soundtrack.
For me, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist reads exactly like that—except that the soundtrack is shared by two people that are thrown into each other’s lives with an unexpected springboard of a rash kiss. Told in alternating he-said/she-said narration, a story of love, music, and friendship unfolds in one long roller coaster of a “first date” in Manhattan. Can anyone really fall in love in less than twenty four hours? Can two people hold on to a small spark in their hearts when the embers of the last flame are not truly gone?
Nick O’Leary is the non-queer bassist of a queercore band. He’s recently dumped by his girlfriend Tris, who walks into their gig one night…with a new guy. In efforts to avoid her, Nick asks the girl next to him to be his girlfriend for the next five minutes. Norah Silverberg, daughter of a big-time recording company executive, will do anything to evade her frienemy Tris, so she answers Nick’s request by a lip lock. With that impulsive gesture, they have unwittingly unlocked a door of new romantic possibilities.
What I really loved about this book is that the characters are perfect portrayals of the teenagers that they really are. I’ve encountered a lot of books where teens sound like what the authors wish them to sound like (precocious is not the right term but it’s the first that comes to mind), inadvertently tagging themselves as literary ventriloquists. One classic example—committed by most female YA authors—is they’re making teenage boys sound like their ideal thirty-year-old men. They’re not fleshing out characters when they do that; they’re just making use of puppets molded by their dreamy notions and frustrations.
Here, Nick is just a guy—an emo punk, overly angsty and cheesy guy who continues to make break-up mix CDs and wallow in his pain. And Norah is just a girl—a witty but very paranoid feminist who is not positive if she doesn’t deserve being called a “Tin Woman” for allegedly not possessing a heart. XD Their quirky voices hit all the right notes in the alternate storytelling part, as if they’re singing the same song on their own until the chorus arrives and their voices blend, a perfect duet with back-up voices of strong supporting characters. If this novel is an album, the listeners will encounter a lot of songs about strippers in nun costumes, taxi driver wisdom, minutes-long on-again-off-again relationships, heart-vs-mind debates…and a jacket named Salvatore. :p
This is why I think the Cohn-Levithan duo is such an exquisite collaboration. They are so in-sync with each other that you can only wonder why they can flawlessly make the story go on, yet know who’s penned what because of their distinctive styles. Admittedly I haven’t read other books by Cohn, but I immediately know which character she wrote because Levithan’s writing still has the undertones of his Will Grayson, Will Grayson style as well as that of Boy Meets Boy. I’m sure that he wrote Nick’s part.
To add bone-crunching riffs to the funky rhythm of the plot are themes and messages wonderfully presented. LGBTQ is there of course, epitomized by Nick’s gay bandmates as well as Norah herself, who’s got bisexual tendencies. And then there are short commentaries on the current punk scene, lessons about family and education, among others.
I’m not easily impressed by most love stories, but this novel thawed my frosty literary heart from the very first page. I guess it has something to do with me being a music junkie, since all the musical references there made me love it more. The geek-talk may confuse non-music lovers though, and the massive deployment of f-bombs in every page may turn some readers off.
All in all it’s a very satisfying read!
get the book here!