Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List

February 7, 2008 at 7:58 pm 2 comments

I. Love. This. Book.

This is the perfect illustration of my belief that kids–and particularly those of the young adult variety–should get to read books that deal with the whole spectrum of human experience, from touching to messy to scary to funny. Because good choices aren’t actually good if they’re not really choices. I can see a parent picking up this book and thinking, ZOMG! Teen sex! Underage drinking! The gay! But if you can get past that, this is a really moving story about love and hurt and telling the truth to yourself before you can understand how to tell it to anybody else.

Of particular note in Naomi and Ely is the way that Cohn and Levithan are able to write things that are accurate without necessarily being good. I’m just as convinced that these authors get just-out-of-or-still-stuck-in-high-schoolers as I am that Borgman and Scott get fifteen year old boys and Bill Watterson (sigh!) got six year olds. As such, they’re able to really beautifully express the thoughts and feelings that are so heart-wrenchingly true for their characters, but that are nonetheless totally wrong for someone else in the story.

Case in point:

Gay doesn’t change that–our shared past, our committed future. Gay doesn’t mean I shouldn’t wait for that one moment when he won’t be.

I cringed when I read that line. It felt at first like a close relative of you just haven’t met the right boy yet. But then I thought a little harder, and came at it from a different angle. Yes, I’m now well-equipped to argue the merits of being straight for a moment from a queer theory vantage point–but that’s not where Naomi’s coming from at all. The idea that Ely could, even just for an instant, be not gay–only long enough for a kiss, perhaps, and only for her–may be preposterous to a detached adult reader, and probably a little painful for some of the homos among us. But it’s absolutely the kind of thing you imagine when you’re in love.

I’m a huge fan of unsanitized young adult reading. Teenage characters should say fuck sometimes when they mean it, and sell marijuana to support their film aspirations, and think about how adultery can shatter families. Yeah, it would be awesome to live in a world where sex was only ever shared between true lovers and no one ever got too drunk to stand and creepy older men didn’t have designs on young girls. But that’s not the world we live in. I’m not saying that we should just hand teenagers Hunter S. Thompson or the Story of O, but to gloss over the realities of their lives when we write for them–or recommend books for them–would be dishonest. Not to mention boring.


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Seventeenth Summer On book recommendations

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Linda Braun  |  February 8, 2008 at 11:38 am

    I’m bringing Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist to class tomorrow – you can borrow if you like in order to read what David and Rachel accomplished the first-time out.

    In the end of the post you hit on something really important – the need to reflect in teen lit the world that teens live in today. And, along with that, in order for librarians to actually serve teens successfully we have to acknowledge today’s world and not the world that want for teens. Pretending contemporary teen life doesn’t exist helps no one.

    I’m always concerned about a tendency of some adults to basically lie to teens about what a book is about in order to get a teen to read something. Once a teen catches an adult in a lie about a piece of content the possibility for a good relationship is really hindered.

  • 2. pandanose  |  February 8, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Sometimes I think it’d be better to lie to the adults so they don’t freak out… I remember being totally mortified when my dad read part of a book I was reading when I was fourteen or so. (Let’s just say it included some “adult themes.”)


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