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

  • Grace Ellen Dunn

    Ahhh! Nick and Norah is such an AMAZING book. It definitely doesn’t get the attention it deserves — I’m so glad to see it featured here! :]

  • Pearl Tam

    I remember reading the book before I got to watch the movie. It was such a great book! And you are right…Norah is a total badass chick with Nick being the awesome fictional guy! Totally awesome! 😀

  • Kathy Lopez

    I have read all three books, actually all of Rachel Cohns books! I’ve been in love with her writing ever since I found Gingerbread at Border when I was a freshman in HS. Nick and Norah’s is one of my favorite books of all time! I am also a complete music nerd, I even used a line from the book as my senior quote.

    I’d like to recomend Sloppy First by Megan McCafferty. It is actually the first book of a series of five. The second book in the series is my number one favorite YA book because the main character is just so bad ass! So even though I’d like to say Norah is the badest bitch around I’m going to have to say she takes second place next to Jessica Darling.

    • Kerry Winfrey

      Kathy, I L-O-V-E Sloppy Firsts. I’m definitely going to write about Sloppy Firsts eventually! Marcus Flutie 4evs.

    • Jordi Blythe

      The Jessica Darling series is incredible. I was super obsessed with them in high school. I have always thought it would make for a great TV series, if done right.

  • Cori Lynne Hedrick

    Every book John Green or Sarah Dessen has ever written. Paper Towns and The Truth About Forever are my favorites from each of them.

    I exclusively read YA books and will probably continue to do so long after I surpass the age range of being an actual Young Adult.

  • Kathy Lopez

    Oh.My.God. YES! I Can’t wait to read what you have to say about it! I am in love with Marcus Flutie! My friends all think I’m weird for fangirling over fictional boys but it can’t be helped. I even got a red t-shirt and but “Me, Yes, Me” on it! I’m strange I know.

  • James Grant McGuire

    Pretty good book. Good enough that I’ve read it twice , uh, make that 6 times. Actually the book has pure genius dialogue. I have 2 boys the age of Nick. I recall those all night adventures on the town and this book captures the experience. We are way low on quality “teen angst” books and movies.

  • Kristen O’Connor

    I love this book! But seriously, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares was even better!!!!!!

  • Angel Fernandez

    Time for a reread and rewatch. <3

  • Angelica Maria Capotorto

    Loved the book and the movie. You should also read “The Future of Us” by Jay Asher. He’s the author of “13 reasons why.” The Future of Us is also a collaborative writing style. It’s about 2 teens from 1996 who install AOL and end up logging into Facebook. It’s a great read I recommend it %100! and I would love to read an article about it :)

    • Kerry Winfrey

      It sounds great, Angelica! I will definitely check it out!

  • M.C. Silver

    I recommend “North of Beautiful” by Justina Chen Headley and I just finished the AMAZING “Between” by Jessica Warman. It just kept surprising me. Also either “Scribbler of Dreams” or “The Miles Between” by Mary E. Pearson.

    • Kerry Winfrey

      I LOVE Justina Chen Headley and I’m definitely planning on writing about her soon! I haven’t read the other books you mentioned, so I will for sure give them a look! Thanks!

  • Ellen Lewis

    No way. Get out of my brain.

    You did a post on An Abundance Of Katherines at approximately the same time I decided I was going to start reading it. After that I started researching the book version of Nick & Norah more to see if I wanted to read it (I too adore Michael Cera), and then this post appears.

    What a crazy random happenstance, right? I guess I’ll be reading your column for book advice from now on! :)

    • Kerry Winfrey

      Book twins! :)

  • Cristal Bernal

    I checked this one out with The Fox Inheritance, Fever, Girl, and The Bell Jar last week. :)

  • Kassie Jae Piotrowski

    I love this movie, just watched it last week :)

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