Monday, October 29, 2007

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List. By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. 2007. Copy supplied by publisher, Random House (imprint: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers).

The Plot:
Naomi and Ely are been best friends since forever; grade school, high school, and even college. Naomi loves Ely, Ely loves Naomi; Ely is gay, but that doesn't stop Naomi from believing that Ely, her best friend, is, well, the one. Despite the evidence to the contrary: gay, remember?

Naomi and Ely have a friendship preserving "no kiss" list; the cute doorman has just been added. Naomi didn't think she had to add Bruce the Second, her current boyfriend, to the list; wouldn't it be obvious?

But Ely kisses Bruce the Second. And it changes everything.

The Good:
Do girls like Naomi exist, for real? Both Naomi and Ely are New York City kids, thru and thru. Naomi is the gorgeous one: you can just imagine that the Eagles song is about her (city girls just seem to find out early, how to open doors with just a smile.) She's gorgeous, all the guys fall for her, and she can seem like a total bitch.

But underneath -- Naomi is someone who has been betrayed and let down by almost everyone in her life. Everyone except for Ely. And then what does Ely do? Lets her down by kissing Bruce the Second. By falling in love with Bruce the Second. By falling in love with someone who isn't her. By having someone in his life who is more important than her.

Naomi is a hard girl to like; she can be a bitch. Hey, better to keep people away than to let hem hurt you. I'm not even sure I can say I like her; but do I understand her? Yes. And I'm intrigued that Cohn and Levithan took the risk of having such a hard person to like be at the heart of this book.

Also good: Cohn and Levithan did dual narrators in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist; here, there are multiple narrators, with Cohn and Levithan writing all voices. So we see people as they see themselves, as others see them; the masks they put on successfully, and the ones they don't realize they have on.

This is a book about the break up of a friendship; a friendship that is so close and tight, it didn't have room for anyone else. Oh, Naomi and Ely date others -- but their true loves and soulmates? Are each other. Naomi half realizes it, keeping boys at arms length (she's still a virgin); Ely has had many boyfriends, but it's all short, hot, romances, no real love. Naomi and Ely -- had this book been set in high school, ah, it would have been full of nights out and shared clothes and everyone in school half in awe, half in love with them. A world where NaomiandEly are one word, and they are the it couple who are not a couple. But can that intensity be maintained beyond high school? Should it?

Can that type of friendship survive growing up? Falling in love with someone else? No matter how glam and sexy and smart Naomi and Ely are together -- they are too close. They just don't realize it; until Ely kisses Bruce the Second. And Naomi begins to realize -- not that yes, Ely is really gay and so will never by her first lover or husband; but that yes, Naomi cannot be the most important person in Ely's life forever. And a girl who has been let down by her parents -- well, to Naomi, once she is no longer the most important person in Ely's life, its as if she is no longer the most important person in anyone's life. That's a lonely, cold place.

All too often, in teen books and movies and TV, there is friendship message that, well, friends are and will be BFF no matter what, if they just want to be. They ignore the reality that it is a healthy thing to grow up and perhaps apart; and to let in new people. It's refreshing to see this book address that; and to do so in a way where there are no good guys or bad guys, just flawed and very human teens trying to figure out who they are and what they want and who they want to be.

Other goods: While this is a book about breaking up, it's also a book about falling in love: Ely and Bruce the Second. And it's about Naomi being in love with Ely, and fighting against falling in love with someone who is a bit more available.

Final point: I heard David Levithan read a chapter of this in October. He is a fabulous speaker.

And, yes, it's one of my personal best books this year.

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Kelly said...

Oh, yay! I really want to read this one. I'm happy to hear you liked it.

Anonymous said...

Drat. Now I have that Eagle's song in my head. Oh well. Your review was worth it. I've seen the book mentioned lots of places, but yours is the first to give me enough understanding to want to read it. Thanks!

Jess said...

I always enjoy reading reviews that articulate exactly what it was that was good about a book, or exactly what I liked about it - and you did precisely that. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as you, but you put your finger on what it did so well. Thanks!