Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Okay, I confess, I am an uber-book-nerd. When I decided to read WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan, I could not resist making this choice into a literature course by picking up NICK & NORA'S INFINITE PLAYLIST by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan as well.

There are so many reasons to read these books together: Two examples of David Levithan co-writing with other awesome YA authors. Two books structured in alternating chapters from two points-of-view. Two books packed with edgy dialogue in which characters journey across richly depicted music-scene landscapes and through virtual universes which can yield as much real joy and heartbreak as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. In sum, two very in-the-moment, in-our-time novels.

I started with NICK & NORA, mostly because my secretary (suffering from an ear infection) seemed to perfectly embody Nick at the start of the story (though the heartbreaking/heartbroken cone around Nick's neck would certainly be metaphorical). (And, oh, come on, I had to post this pic!) The language in this novel is so stylized, so sharp, that it took me awhile to get into the book's rhythm. But the characters were so compelling, their heartbreaks and insecurities so intensely portrayed, that I had to follow. WILL GRAYSON was easier for me to begin, perhaps because I'd just finished NICK & NORA or maybe because this story begins with the unforgettable Tiny and the description of an endearing friendship.

The thing that works most for me in both novels was the way the structure enriches the ideas being explored. In both books, the dual teenage protagonists are defined by other people and things--music choices, the people who dumped them, the friendships they've managed to hold onto. It seems to me this is a critical experience of teen life--identifying yourself by the group to which you belong, or the activities in which you choose to participate, without necessarily stopping to reflect deeply on the role you play in these dynamics (which can lead to some challenging situations).

The binary structure of both of the novels allows readers to see one narrative as a foil for the other and to choose which character, which narrator, most closely represents their own identity and situation. In this way the reader, along with the protagonists, is defining himself or herself in terms of what they see outside, or on the page. While each novel plays out in its own unique way, both are journeys in which the characters ultimately make a connection with a person who enables them to look inward with honesty and, as a result, to become a little more themselves.

To analyze these books in depth would be a very long term paper indeed. I could probably do five pages on the significance of the titles alone (maybe that's why I love writing reading guides). Today, however, I'll conclude with recommending these two titles as must-read YAs.

Do you have any books that you recommend reading as a pair? Please let me know as I can never get enough term paper assignments :)


Sylvie said...

Since I just read the latter, A Wrinkle in Time and When You Reach Me, but that's probably too obvious a pairing.

Dawn Simon said...

Wonderful post! I loved NICK & NORA so much I don't want to see the movie--I want to remember it the way it is in the book. I haven't read WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON. Yet. :) I planned to already because of the authors. You're making me want to read it NOW.

Your poor secretary. Great picture, though. Hee!

Stasia said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Sylvie. Haven't read WHEN YOU REACH ME yet.

Dawn, definitely check out WILL GRAYSON. And my secretary thanks you for complimenting his picture :)