Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

This joint review has been cross-posted on The Zen Leaf.

Amanda: So how's this for summary? Naomi and Ely are best friends. Naomi is in love with Ely, but Ely is both gay and oblivious. When Ely confesses to kissing Naomi's boyfriend, their friendship begins to unravel.

Jason: Well... it doesn't really begin to unravel until he hides her boyfriend in his closet, with every intention of having a makeout session with him - 'cause the thing is (at least in my opinion), she could care less about her boyfriend - she likes ironing his shirts, for instance, slightly more than she likes kissing him.

Amanda: I agree, she's only with him because she thinks she needs a boyfriend, someone to occupy her time when Ely's off doing his boyslut thing. Speaking of which, how did you feel about the two main characters?

Jason: Honestly... I didn't really like either of them, until about 3/4 of the way into the book. Weirdly enough, Ely at the beginning kind of reminds me of Rilla at the beginning of Rilla of Ingleside, which I just read - kind of flighty, not yet capable of anything truly and permanently serious. I liked Naomi better, but her tragic flaws (lying, narcissism) were kind of grating. At first this bothered me, but honestly, I thought the ending was somewhat more poignant, because I could start to like the two of them. What about you? Did you like them by the end? Did you think they really changed?

Amanda: I don't know that they really changed so much as figured each other out a little bit more. They're the sort of people who need some melodrama in their lives and relationship to make them happy. They were too easily provoked, and too easily brought back together, for it to be a serious fight. I know they really felt like they were having a huge fight, but it didn't feel serious to me. More like something my cousins and I might have done in middle school.

Of course, some would say Ely kissing Naomi's boyfriend would be a major reason for her to get upset, but like we agreed earlier, I didn't think it had anything to do with him. I think Naomi was just pushing buttons, trying to see if she could force Ely into confessing he really cared about her, and that backfired. Then, she was backed into a corner and didn't know how to untangle herself from her own web.

I liked Ely by the end, but I don't know that I ever really came to like Naomi. She was better than some characters, though...

Jason: Ah yes. The druggie. Fair warning to anyone who reads this book - there is a chapter by a drug dealer loser guy, and it's both obnoxious and seemingly pointless.

I disagree over the seriousness of the argument - I think Ely just didn't understand why it mattered. It kind of reminded me of when we got together, and I laughed at that one song because it used the tune from "Love Story." I thought I was just being silly, you thought I was attacking something you valued. Well, in her case, he thought he was just commiting a 'venial sin' - kissing a boyfriend she doesn't really care about anyway. But for her, it's more than that. When he's wandering around screwing all the boytoys of NY, it's frustrating for her, but somewhat impersonal. It's as if he was watching porn - he might like someone on screen, but it's not like it's a real relationship, it's not really threatening. But, having her and her boyfriend side by side, she wants him to accidentally realize he wants to kiss her. When he accidentally realizes he wants to kiss her boyfriend, it's suddenly personal - it's like saying "Yes, I can be romantic, yes, I can fall in love with a real person. Just not you." And that is hard for her.

Amanda: I suppose that makes sense. I still think she was just pushing buttons, trying to get him to realize he was as in love with her as she was with him. She didn't think he was serious about the boyfriend when the fight started.

But speaking of characters - I loved Robin (the female one). Though she had poor taste in men (see druggie remark above), she was the one of the only two characters/narrators I consistantly liked all through the book (the other being Naomi's boyfriend, Bruce the Second). My favorite line comes from her:

Naomi's so city-girl tough, she won't allow herself to cry, even though it's obvious she really wants to. Instead she reclines on the worn-out sofa in the study lounge, licking sprinkles off her Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream scoop, with a dog named Cutie Pie or Cutie Patootie, I'm not sure, taking what appears to be a much-needed nap on her stomach. ... Naomi stares blankly at the ceiling while her latest appendage, who actually answers to "Bruce the First," sits in a chair opposite her, assuring her the fight was Ely's fault. He has a Pink Bubblegum flavor cone in his one hand and uses the remote control in his other hand to switch between sports score rundowns on ESPN and some late-night Dr. Phil replay. He has some involuntary twitching problem every time the word Ely is uttered.

Awesome. I love New York.

Robin had the right attitude about life. I liked her.

Jason: I liked Bruce the Second, but for just the opposite reason - he took EVERYTHING seriously. A little too seriously. He was such a romantic, that, in spite of all the 'tough New Yorkers' around him, he could feel genuine feelings, and make Ely feel genuine feelings as well. I think that's why Ely falls in love with him - because Bruce makes Ely feel real. This is sort of the threat on Naomi, too - they are comfortable and have fun together, but their friendship has constricted both of them into playing a role for the other - that's why it shocks each of them so much that they actually don't know what the other is feeling.

Did you feel like the two of them knew each other well? Do you think there are just different ways of knowing a person, and if so, what did their relationship like in the way of knowing?

Amanda: Backing up one moment to Bruce #2 - I liked him because, unlike Ely, he didn't embrace and spread a gay stereotype. He was himself when he thought he was straight, and he didn't change when he discovered he liked being with Ely. He didn't change clothes, didn't change tastes, didn't change into a stereotype. That's why I loved him.

But to answer your question, I think they knew each other well in a way, in history and in being able to complete each other's sentences because they'd known each other so long, but in other ways, no. Right at the beginning, you see the same joking line of Ely's from both their perspectives, a line where he basically says, "I'll never be with you," and she's flattened by it each time, and he thinks she loves it. There was a lot of miscommunicated actions and motives. It's like they grew up, and because they knew each other so well as kids, they never stopped to work on making sure they kept knowing each other as adults. It's like the No Kiss List: Bruce #2 wasn't on there, so Ely doesn't find him off limits, but Naomi says Ely should have just known B2 was off limits. There's something missing between them, and they don't realize it until the crack becomes wide enough to do some damage.

Okay, this is getting long (too long for me to discuss my accidental reading of "his beautiful Hello Kitty pajamas," sad!) - overall, what's the verdict?

Jason: Overall? Eh... it was ok. The beginning felt like an eighties teen movie: half sex romp, half teen nostalgia. The second half was better, but could get a little didactic. The final part of the book felt kind of spoonfed to the reader - but genuine. It's the sort of book to read if you want to reexperience your past, not learn something new - and I don't think that's just because I'm not a teenager anymore. Meh.

Amanda: I agree. It wasn't as good as the other David Levithan book that I read (Boy Meets Boy), but the ending sort of saved it.


Amanda said...

"New York" is an interesting tag for this. New York, homosexuality, but no YA or romance or anything else...hmm. ;P I'm just picking on you, Jase. Thanks for doing this review with me!

Julie said...

Really loved this review format! Superb! I hope to see it again. It was so interesting and very entertaining to read through.
Plus, you really hit the spot with your thoughts on some of the complications and emotions of their relationship. I could truly see what you meant.

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