Monday, May 18, 2009

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

Naomi and Ely are best friends - they have been since they were toddlers. Ely's two moms are like extra mothers for Naomi, who remembers being read bedtime stories by them, and being tucked into bed together, side by side. Never could she imagine her life without him - even when her father and one of his mothers had an affair that broke up her own parents' marriage, Ely was always there.

Ely loves Naomi, too. He understands her in a way no one else can. Except he doesn't really understand her. He doesn't get the fact that she loves him desperately, helplessly - even though she knows he's gay. Because it's always been the two of them, closer than close. He's going to be her first. He's the man she's going to marry. How could being gay really be more than a bump in the road? It seems to Naomi like something that will eventually work itself out - after all, she is clearly way more important to Ely than any of the boys he goes out with.

The delicate balance in their relationship is one reason why they've created the "No Kiss List" - a list of boys so hot that neither one is allowed to kiss them, lest their own relationship be threatened. But then one day Ely tells Naomi that he kissed her boyfriend. Who was not on the list. But Naomi feels that's beside the point, and things head downhill fast.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, but I opened it with fairly high expectations and a sense of anticipation. I loved Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, its intelligence and humor, its deft characterizations, and its honest exploration of a developing relationship, complete with all the baggage and misplaced emotions that are inevitably carried into it. In this YA novel, Cohn and Levithan explore a relationship that is extremely complex because Naomi and Ely have known each other for so long.

Nick and Norah was told in alternating viewpoints by the two main characters, and with the two names in the title of this book, I expected that same format. And so it started out. But then, after Naomi's voice in the opening pages, the following chapter is narrated by her current boyfriend, Bruce the Second. We eventually hear from Ely, but also from Bruce the First, the doorman, Bruce the First's Sister, and Naomi's friend Robin. I tend to be rather resistant to point-of-view changes as a books progresses - I become attached to the narrator. But here, the voices of the various narrators are so expressive, and what they have to say is so interesting, that I was immediately drawn into the narrative, no matter which character was telling the story. And soon I looked forward to hearing from each one, from one chapter to the next.

These shifts in viewpoints make for a very powerful story. They illustrate the fact that relationships are complicated - because people are so complicated. Seeing Naomi and Ely's relationship through each other's eyes gives the reader some insight into their friendship. Seeing them through the eyes of their boyfriends, their neighbors, their friends illuminates facets of their characters - and their relationships - that would otherwise remain in the shadows.

There are so many things I loved about this book. I loved the characters, first and foremost. They felt so real to me that when I closed the book, I felt as though I were saying goodbye to some very dear friends. I didn't always agree with what they did or why they did it, but I certainly understood their motivations. I loved the book's honest exploration of love, sexuality, and friendship. It is fairly explicit about sexual relationships, so the book might not be for everyone - although I personally think it can be a good thing to read outside one's comfort zone. Most of all, I loved that the book poses difficult questions, and that it is sure to make readers stop for a moment and think. I hope Cohn and Levithan will continue collaborating. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

Also reviewed at:

The Book Muncher: "...Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List was a beautiful story. It explores sexuality and the fine line between friendship and something more."

Bookshelves of Doom: "...but Nick & Norah, even with its angst, was ultimately a sweet book. Naomi and Ely is not. But there's more to think about here -- not just about friendship and family, but about who we love (romantically and/or platonically) and why."

Things Mean a Lot: "I loved this book so much. It’s smart and bittersweet and wise, and it doesn’t try to oversimplify things."

6 comments:

  1. I agree, the multiple points of view worked very, very well. I can't wait to read Nick and Norah, and I too hope they collaborate again :)

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  2. Hooray! Another Naomi and Ely fan! I've been hoping that more people would pick this up. :D

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  3. I want to read this! I like multiple points of view, and I had read Nymeth's excellent review too - excited for the library to get it in.

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  4. Nymeth - I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on Nick & Norah!

    Renay - I hope more people will read this, too - it's such a wonderful, sweet and thoughtful book. And funny, too!

    Jenny - If you like multiple POVs, you are going to love this. I hope your library gets it in soon. :-)

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  5. I cannot wait to read this! My copy should be arriving at the library soon. Thanks for the awesome review :)

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  6. Joanne - I'll be very interested to hear what you think of this one. I think you're in for a treat. :-)

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