Young Adult Education

It Happened One Night: ‘Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

You may know Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist as a film starring the talented and lovely Kat Dennings and my pretend best friend Michael Cera. It’s a seriously charming flick that will win over even the most jaded romantic-movie-hater (I’m mostly talking about my boyfriend, although his interest in the movie may have had more to do with his crush on Kat Dennings. Whatever!). But before it was a movie, it was an amazing book written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

When the book begins, Nick and Norah are total strangers. Nick is playing bass in his queercore band and feeling heartbroken over his ex-girlfriend Tris, who’s actually at the show with a new guy on her arm. Norah’s busy wearing flannel, being awesome, and trying to figure out whether or not Nick’s gay. She basically gets her answer when Nick’s first words to her are, “I know this is going to sound strange, but would you mind being my girlfriend for the next five minutes?”

He’s just trying to make his ex jealous, of course, but those five minutes and one kiss are all it takes for Norah to fall head-over-vintage-sneakers. At first, Norah is encumbered by her friend Caroline, a lovable party-drunk who needs to get back home. But when Nick’s band mates promise to get Caroline home if Norah will only go out with Nick and show him a good time (side note: Don’t do this! It turns out okay in the book, but under no circumstance should you leave your drunk friend with a group of dudes who have a mattress in the back of their van! Even if they seem nice, this is a one-way ticket to Murderville! Public Service Announcement over.), Nick and Norah really set off on a long night of adventure in NYC. N&N is a One Crazy Night story (add this to my list of favorite plots!), where a book’s worth of romance, excitement, heartbreak and danger are crammed into one slim volume. Nick and Norah move from attraction to despair to intimacy to indifference so quickly it will make you dizzy. Throughout the book, Nick tries to get over Tris and Norah freaks out about her future, all while maintaining a crazy-quick witty repartee that rivals that of the Gilmore Girls.

Some Highlights:

Nick and Norah is written in a back-and-forth style between the two characters, with David Levithan writing Nick’s sections and Rachel Cohn providing Norah’s sections. As a result, Nick and Norah have unique and very separate voices. I definitely got the impression the authors are friends in real life, because their characters play off each other in a way that feels effortless.

-One of the coolest things about N&N it that it features gay characters who are just regular kids. The other two members of Nick’s band are gay, but they’re interesting, unique punk rock boys who are never reduced to lazy stereotypes. In fact, most everyone in N&N is a fully-realized, three-dimensional character. Even Tris, the girl who broke Nick’s heart and is a frenemy to Norah, is revealed to be a complicated and possibly-sometimes-goodhearted girl instead of a supervillian. Norah’s ex, though, is just a straight up d-bag.

-One of the things that amazes Norah so much about Nick? He not only understands a Heathers reference, but comes back with his own Heathers reference. HelloGigglers, we are Norah, Norah is us, and Nick is our dream fictional dude.

-Nick is a high school boy who is totally okay with having gay friends. I can count on one hand the number of dudes I knew in high school who didn’t think gay slurs were the ultimate comeback or a hilarious joke (to be fair, I went to high school about ten years ago in a small town; I hope your high school was/is better!). Yet another reason Nick is a dreamboat!

-Music is its own character in this novel; Nick’s in a band, Norah’s dad is a famous music producer and Nick and Norah spend most of the book trying to find a secret show by one of their favorite bands. The pages are saturated with the songs Nick and Norah listen to, sing and reference. I only wish this book had been around when I was in high school, when I could have appreciated it as the little music nerd I was then (instead of the old book nerd I am now).

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have also written other books together, including Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List and Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares. Have you read any of their other books? Did Nick and Norah inspire you to create a mix CD? Is Norah the baddest bitch around (the only answer is yes)? Let me know in the comments! As always, if there are any books you’d like to recommend for Young Adult Education, leave a comment or e-mail me at!

Image via Open Library

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