Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Children’s Books: Naomi and Ely’s No-Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

In Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, the title characters -- 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, Naomi’s father had a brief affair with Ely’s lesbian mother and then left. Since then, Naomi has had to look after her own 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, but 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.

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