Month: August 2017

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

“All I have are the songs crashing together in my head. They’re all sad. They’re all bitter. And they’re all I have.”

rain-and-a-book-nick-norah-infinite-playlist-cohn-levithanIf you saw my little note on Goodreads, then you know that I was not sure if I was going to review Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But it occurred to me that not talking about this book on my blog would be highly unfair. Not in recent times has a book moved me so much or, for the lack of a less cliched phrase, filled my lonely, dark, black hole of a heart with so much joy.

Whenever I talk about David Levithan, this is the first book people point me to (although I don’t know why I still pushed it a little far down my list). David Levithan as an author is not just someone I admire and look up to but also someone who has some kind of influence on me. When I read him, there have been times when I’ve felt it’s something I wrote, or if it was something written exclusively for me. I don’t just mean that in the sense that I connect to it or relate to it in a way we do with so many writers. It’s more like his work is like my security blanket. I discovered him last year and although I’d resolved to read only one book each by the authors I chose (in order to increase the number and genres of books I read), I ended up breaking that resolve for Levithan. I think, if I may be so bold to admit it, I’m a little bit in love with him because of his writing.

I had not heard of Nick and Norah before I started reading Levithan, or even the movie of the same name (which is, I hear, quite popular). I was skeptical at first because this is a collaboration project, and I wondered how it would turn out. In the past I’ve tried to get two writers to do collab projects with me, and they both politely declined stating “What if it doesn’t work out” as the reason. Oh well. I’m glad Levithan and Rachel Cohn did not say that to each other. (Speaking of Cohn – I’ve not read any of her works, so reccos are welcome!)

A lot of us are against books with their movie tie-in covers (I still have quite a few in my collection. I generally try not to look at the cover if it bothers me.) But in the case of Nick and Norah, I fell in love with the cover as well. Not that I have any particular liking for Michael Cera or Kat Dennings (I’ve seen way too much Arrested Development and Two Broke Girls for that), but seeing that cover made me feel things that other authors of this genre have failed to. I’m not being partial here. I’ve seen the original cover as well, the one that looks a bit like Eleanor and Park (which still gets credit for being the book through which I eventually discovered Levithan – it was a whole YA trail I had to walk through), and I still like the movie tie-in cover of the edition that I have better.

The story begins with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes, and her responding with a kiss. They are both avoiding the same person – Nick’s ex Tris. Later, as Norah goes searching for her friend (who’s passed out drunk somewhere), Nick’s friends ask her to take him out for the night, because he has been spending too much time pining for Tris. They promise to drop her friend home safe and sound. And thus begins a very memorable night – for Nick, Norah, and the readers.

The story is intermeshed with music – Nick is a member of a band, he’s written songs for Tris, songs whose lyrics Norah had read even before she knew who Nick was. There are also numerous references to other popular bands (“The Cure. What do they think they’re the cure for? Happiness?”). Even the Acknowledgments page is a playlist. It’s one of the books I danced with, and swayed along with the music. There may be other books with their own “soundtrack” so to speak, but this is the one that transported me to that night. Norah’s indecisiveness regarding whether to give Nick a chance, Nick’s heartbreak that slowly heals during the course of the night – all of it was almost magical to read.

It is difficult to explain why this book made me feel all the things it did (yes, the point of this review should be to explain that, but sometimes words fail), but the main reason, it seems, is that it’s a story about moving on. It’s a story of two healed hearts. It’s a story where things change drastically in one night for the better for two lost, heartbroken people. There, right there, is a story worth reading, a book worth recommending. So go on, mend your broken heart. Find your cure.

The Cure. For the Ex’s? I’m sorry, Nick. You know. Will you kiss me again?

(PS: After reading Nick and Norah, I also read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by the same authors. There’s a reference to the above quote – a happy reminder of how all these characters are in the same universe, which makes them more real somehow)

Goodreads | Amazon

 

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Into The Water, by Paula Hawkins

“We tell our stories differently, don’t we, you and I?”

into-the-water-rainandabookBack in school, for a while – before Harry Potter took over – we were all hooked on to R. L. Stine’s Fear Street series. There was one book in particular that was more popular than the rest – Fear Street Super Chiller Goodnight Kiss 2. The reason being the big reveal happened on the very last page. Those who had read it tricked those who didn’t into reading the last page before finishing the book, thereby spoiling it.

I never read Goodnight Kiss 2 even though it has been on my TBR for eighteen years or so. The only reason it’s still on my TBR is cos I’m still curious to find out what’s on that last page. I don’t even know the what the story is about!

And with that we come to Paula Hawkins’ latest, Into The Water, whose big reveal also happens on the very last page. Rather underwhelmingly. Into the Water is one of those books that meanders so far away from the point that not only do you get impatient, but also bored. It’s an odd mix of emotions, one directly contradicting the other.

In the beginning, we are told that Nel Abbott is dead. It is hinted that it was a murder. The characters, of course, insist it was a suicide, especially Nel’s daughter Lena. Nel’s body was found one morning in the Drowning Pool, where several “troublesome” women have died before her, including Lena’s best friend Katie. There is this not so subtle undercurrent of “These were all murders”. Woven into this mesh of POVs (oh so many POVs! Did an editor even see this?) are detectives Sean Townsend (whose mom died in the same pool) and Erin Morgan (who lives in a house which used to be occupied by Sean’s mom) (seriously, what is up with this unimaginatively titled pool!)

We are, as readers, directed to care about all the murdered women. We can’t. Or at least (this being my review) I couldn’t. I wanted to know about Nel – not these old murders that the characters were insisting on digging up. I didn’t know these other dead characters, why would I care if they’re dead? I couldn’t care much for Nel either, and don’t even get me started on how irritating her sister Jules (“not Julia”) was. The subplot of rape that caused the sisters to grow apart was sketched so poorly that it made me angry – it felt like it was forced into the narrative.

I know a lot of what I’m saying sounds like I hated the book. I didn’t. Or I don’t want to, but that’s mostly cos I like Paula Hawkins as a writer. I liked Paula Hawkins as a writer. Even when I read The Girl on the Train, I felt it started off real slow, but I was blown away by the end. I thought the comparisons to Gillian Flynn were unfair, cos Hawkins is clearly a superior writer, who didn’t need someone like Flynn to piggyback on to market her book. But Into The Water proves these comparisons are justified. One of the reasons I hate Flynn’s work (and for that matter Jessica Knoll’s work) is the undercurrent of woman-hate in her stories. In Sharp Objects, for instance, Flynn’s MC blames and shames rape victims. Something similar happens in Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and even in Into The Water. The story is about “troublesome” women who got murdered. By troublesome, Hawkins is referring to women who were unhappy in marriages, or women who fell in love with men who weren’t available to them. That’s a narrow definition of “troublesome” and a most unfitting one at that. A regressive narrative, wouldn’t you say?

And the writing! Gosh. Red Herrings are great in a thriller, but when three people come forward and say they committed the murder and the author goes on and on for pages about how, yes, they did commit the murder, but then reveals on the very last page that nope, someone else altogether committed the murder, it just takes the sting out. I read the final confession of the murderer, flipped the page and saw “Acknowledgments”, and went, “Huh?” in underwhelmed bewilderment. I was in a public place when this happened, and the lady seated next to me asked, “Is everything all right?” I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, so I said, “Oh, nothing, I was just reading a stupid book.”

I know I may be too old to read Fear Street now, but every instinct tells me the last page of that will still be better than the last page of Into The Water. This is easily one of the most forgettable books I’ve read, and that makes me sad, coming from the same writer as The Girl on the Train.

Paula Hawkins, I’m not mad. Just disappointed.

Rating: 2.5*

Amazon | Goodreads