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Saturday, October 18, 2008

NAOMI AND ELY’S NO-KISS LIST By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 22008

Naomi and Ely, two university students in New York city, have known each other since early childhood. They live in the same huge apartment block. At one point, her father had a brief affair with his (lesbian) mother and then left. Since then, Naomi has had to look after her mother, who hasn’t stopped grieving.

Beautiful Naomi can have almost any boy she wants and has had boyfriends (Bruce 1 and 2). The trouble is, the only boy she wants is Ely, the one she can’t have, because he’s gay - and not only gay, but promiscuous. So the two of them, to keep their friendship intact, have created a “no-kiss list” - a list of boys neither of them will kiss. When Ely breaks the rules and starts a relationship with Naomi’s current boyfriend, Bruce 2, he risks the friendship - and Naomi has to ask herself what she really wants and what is most important to her. Likewise, Ely has to decide whether he can keep his current lifestyle going or whether there is something more important to him now.

Cohn and Levithan wrote another book together, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was set in the course of one night and had a similar style, though the main characters were heterosexual. It was seen alternatively from the title characters’ viewpoints.

This one has more viewpoints - Naomi, Ely, both Bruces, Gabriel the gorgeous doorman and some friends from universiity. Somehow, it works and the various strands pull together. The style is whimsical, the ending is positive and on the whole it’s a readable book, but heavens, how the characters swear! As in Nick and Norah, the book is filled with four-letter words. I have worked with teenagers for most of my career and, while they do use four-letter words a lot and look at you in surprise if you suggest they are swearing, they don’t do it that much. I don’t think it’s necesssary to write it into a book in the interests of “realism” and about half the swearing would have been plenty. You really can overdo it. It is, in my opinion, well and truly overdone in this novel.

Keep this one for the older teenagers in your life.


kate said...

i am surprised the four-letter words jumped out at you so much that you would reserve it for older readers. in my experience, school-leavers and those in their final years are not the kind of people to look in askance at their parents when they swear - especially not these hip, young new yorkers who have been independent since being toilet trained... i think that while i didn't enjoy naomi and ely quite as much as nick and norah, it is still one of the funniest books i read this year, great characterisation and the language/speech spot-on.
additionally, i think that these authors have very responsible attitudes to their readers, i found that in both their books the reader is left with a nicely understated message, be it about relationships or alcohol... and i will not hesitate from recommending it to my teenage customers.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Kate. I agree with you about most things and in fact I said so in my review, but I stand by my comments about the swearing. I just didn't feel it was believable or necessary to describe everything as "f-" this or that. Maybe it's because I don't work with hip young things, only with teenagers in a poorer suburb of Melbourne. They just don't talk like that. They use four-letter words about a quarter of the time that these characters do. And yes, kids will probably hear most of this stuff in the schoolyard and any kid who wants to borrow Naomi and Ely from my library can do so. I just think all the swearing distracts from the positive elements and I am pretty sure my own younger students will giggle and say, "Ooh, Miss, have you read this?" and they won't be talking about the storyline or characterisation.