There are already enough books by author-voyeurs who have no real love for punk--who just use it as a hook, a backdrop, a jacket cover. But Cohn and Levithan aren't pimping youth culture. They're tangled in the back seat making out with it.
Basically, the plot of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is this: two teenage music whores spend all night in the city trying to get to third base, get over their exes, and get a ride home. The prose is headlong-she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not-stream-of-consciousness. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Nick and Norah, and the whole story takes place over the course of about 10 hours, max. You feel everything they feel: the taxi screeching to a halt, the blood rushing to their body parts.
And I really appreciate the Virginia Woolf-esque attention to detail, because it allows the authors to distinguish between the many styles of people living in the wake of the first few waves of punk. Which leads me to my next rant:
People who write about punk for YAs often focus on the commercial tailspin, which reminds me of the way some people identify hip-hop exclusively with its worst excesses. Before punk was a category like "easy listening" or "gospel," it was a phenomenon, a movement, a whole community of people to whom the phrase "mainstream success" was an oxymoron. But now, punk has an evil twin: the H&M version of itself (see Avril Lavigne). And the two are not always easily distinguishable. But focusing on the commodified part of punk culture is misleading in two ways:
- It overlooks the diversity of expression that characterizes the phenomenon (i.e. it's not just music: it's art, dress, dance, technology, code of honor; and it's not just tight pants, patches, and mohawks: it's Loretta Lynn in a floral print dress and bouffant);
- also, it validates the corporate-appropriated acts rather than the pioneers. (If you think Blink-182 is punk, please don't ever write a book about the punk scene.)
But here's what I really love: they don't think punk is dead. They consider themselves responsible for keeping it alive. They were, like, seven years old when Green Day sang "Do you have the time to listen to me whine ...", but they aren't nostalgic for simpler, purer times. They're active in a current scene. Nick is the only straight musician in a queercore band with no drummer. I'm not sure that's technically possible, but it's absurdly, existentially true-to-life.
But here's what you, as a reader, care about: Nick and Norah are two parts witty to one part cheesy. When they try too hard, it only sounds more authentic ("She's hanging onto the guy ... like she's auditioning to be a pocket on his jacket" (22).). And the supporting characters reveal themselves as philosophical, canine, flirtatious, obtuse. My favorite is Toni, a cross-dressing burlesque theater bouncer in a priest's costume. In fact, I'm going to close with some relationship advice from this ulikely oracle: "There's no such thing as ready ... There's only willing" (62).