I know that this book is considered something of a classic and teens love it, so forgive me for being heretical, but Nick and Norah was pretty ho hum for me. In part, I think this can be chalked up to a few of my own inescapable biases (more anon), but honestly, I think that the quality of the writing had more to do with it. And that’s not to say that both authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (of Boy Meets Boy fame) aren’t talented writers. It’s simply that the general prose style–aggressively clever dialog, laden with cultural references which were trendy about two decades ago, and dripping in irony, delivered via the mouths of super-informed, super-progressive, super-cute teens–doesn’t work for me. It’s a little irksome to have a couple of teenagers holding forth on The Cure while cruising around in a Yugo to various amazing Lower East Side hot spots. But, in fairness, teenagers can be irksome, and in double fairness, I would have cut off my big toe to be able to hold forth on The Cure while cruising around in a Yugo to various amazing Lower East Side hot spots when I was 16, no questions asked.
So in order to give the book a fair shake, I’m simply going to provide a Pro/Con Playlist, if you will:
Pro: Rachel Cohn has amazing taste in apparently everything. Her Norah quotes My So-Called Life at length, which I think sums it up for me.
Con: Rachel Cohn writes annoying females. They use the word ‘bitch’ all the time–for friends and enemies, when happy and angry. They are also devious, manipulative, and not terribly loyal to each other. I know teen girls are like this, but honestly, even Norah, who is supposed to be above all this, is constantly sunk in the mire of girl-drama. Oh, and she is constantly referred to as being ‘totally stacked,’ but has a front-clasp bra. Both things cannot be possible. It’s a little thing, but it bothered me to no end.
Pro: Both Cohn and Levithan really ‘get it’ in terms of the immediacy of teen emotions–particularly love and heartbreak. Nick is crushed because his girlfriend–of six whole months!–breaks up with him and life as he knows and remembers it will never be the same. Likewise, both Nick and Norah fall head-over-horny-heels for one another after spending one ebullient night together wandering around New York. And it’s true–spending a whole night with a crush is overwhelmingly sexy when you’re young. It all happens, like that.
Con: Everyone in this book is too goddamn cool. Norah’s father is a record exec and her godfather owns punk clubs. Nick is the ‘non-queer bassist in a queercore band.’ They all know everything about great music and movies and places to hang out in New York. Even when they are awkward and nervous and totally freaking out on their wacked-out hormones, they have something extremely funny and sophisticated to say to one another.
Pro: The characters have a refreshing approach to sex. Straight, gay, gals, guys, in relationships and out–characters have an open, embracing, safe, but not ridiculously advanced relationship to sex.
Con: The whole ‘Nick and Norah’ homage falls terribly short of its reference.
Pro: The Nick sections were written by David Levithan and the Norah sections by Rachel Cohn. This creates unique voices for each, a nice little dash of gendered perspective, and a cute method of rendering moments in which both characters basically want the same thing but can’t figure out how to communicate this to each other.
Con: Nick and Norah are both self-righteously straight-edge. I went to high school with those kids. They annoyed me then, they annoy me now.
Pro: Any books taking place over the course of one night and involving punk clubs, drag queens dressed in nun garb and singing The Sound of Music tunes, underground secret shows, and Velselka is inherently at least a bit fun.