Review of Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List
“I lie all the time,” reports Naomi in the first line of Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List. From the authors of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist comes a new collab book. Though I didn’t read Nick and Norah, I’ve read a few of David Levithan’s books and heard Rachel Cohn speak, and they seemed like the sort of writers who could effectively write an enjoyable book together.
Naomi and Ely tells the story of, well, Naomi and Ely, two NYU freshman who have lived across the apartment-building hall from each other since they were small kids. But a few months ago, something big happened: one of Ely’s moms cheated on his other mom with Naomi’s dad. Though Naomi tells Ely it’s okay, that things are fine now, she’s still working through the sadness over her dad leaving and supporting her mom through her deep, clinical-depression sadness that causes her to stay in bed every minute that she’s not at work. But Naomi is determined not to let this disaster affect her relationship with Ely, because they’re best friends, and what’s more, they’re soul mates. They’re so much soul mates that even though Ely is very clearly gay, Naomi is still in love with him and is determined that he’s going to be her first. As she says, “I can wait.” So when Ely kisses Naomi’s boyfriend, it’s doubly hurtful- not only because her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend, but because Ely making out with a boy means that Ely is really, truly gay.
I really liked this book, which was a nice surprise; for some reason, I expected not to. But despite its absolutely-teen-bookish cover, and its seemingly shallow main characters, Naomi and Ely is an excellent book about deep friendships, and the ins and outs of relationships in general. The novel is partly narrated by each of the title characters, and because we get to hear both their sides, the story is twice as affecting. The kiss- or rather, the admission of the kiss- happens in the first chapter, and from then on, Naomi and Ely are trying to figure out how the kiss affects the relationship between the two of them. At first, Naomi acts like she doesn’t care. After all, her boyfriend wasn’t on the No Kiss List (the list of kissable people that, should they be kissed by one of the pair, would surely tear apart the friendship.) Plus, she’s the kind of beautiful that turns heads. She can get a new guy in a second. But she doesn’t want a new guy. She wants her boyfriend. Well, actually… she wants Ely. Badly. When trying to talk Ely out of liking her boyfriend Bruce the Second, Naomi elects for the freeze out, which causes both title characters extreme pain. They’re mad at each other, but they miss their childhood best friend terribly. Levithan and Cohn make us feel their pain acutely.
The novel is narrated by a large number of people, each getting a chapter here and there to voice their part of the ongoing story: Naomi, of the title, her best friend Ely, Robin (a girl, and a friend of Naomi’s), Robin (a boy, and a friend of Robin Girl’s), Bruce the First (past boyfriend of Naomi), Bruce the Second (present boyfriend of Naomi), Gabriel (doorman in Naomi, Ely, and Bruce the Firsts’ building), and Kelly, Bruce the First’s twin sister. While I do enjoy books written from various point of views, and while I think most of the characters’ voices were helpful to the storytelling, some of them, like Kelly (who has one chapter) and Robin Boy (who also has one chapter), didn’t make much of a contribution. It was, however, nice to get several different viewpoints on the same story.
One thing I absolutely hated about the book is Naomi’s use of symbols in her chapters. For some reason, the authors chose to have Naomi communicate using symbols instead of certain words- for example, a picture of an eye for “I,” or a raincloud for “rain,” a yin-yang symbol for “equilibrium.” Not only were these symbols annoying to come across because they made the reading clunky, but the authors lost their dedication to them as the book went on. Where Naomi’s first chapter is littered with pictures, some chapters only have one or two. Plus, sometimes I had no idea what they symbols were supposed to be standing in for. At one point, Naomi’s rant is interrupted by a string of pictures of ears, gradually getting bigger. I am staring at the pictures as I type this. I still have no idea what they’re supposed to mean.
But despite the annoying symbols that crop up, I loved this book because of what it said about relationships. “It is not easy,” Ely says toward the end. “Things that matter are not easy. Feelings of happiness are easy. Happiness is not. Flirting is easy. Love is not. Saying you’re friends is easy. Being friends is not. ” Nothing worth having or feeling is easy, but always, always worth it. I wish more YA books covered this message. This one’s a good start.
Ely extracts his one hand from mine, gives his hot chocolate over to me to hold with his other hand, and then places both his hands together at his mouth, to warm them. I want to do the breathing for him.
It strikes me for the gazillionth time that [Naomi] is completely fucking beautiful. And I love it, because my love for her has absolutely nothing to do with that. I love her because she’ll hold the elevator for me even if heading downstairs without me would make more of a point […] I love her because when I feel like putting my head in an over, she’ll gently take it out and bake me cookies instead […] I love her because even though she doesn’t always tell the truth, she always feels like she should. I love her because I don’t need to love her all the time.
I’m so tired of being uncool. You can dress me up, give me a cool boyfriend, even laugh at one of my jokes every now and then- but then anxiety always gives it away.
I notice her. I notice something’s happened. I notice she’s as beautiful as ever, but that she hasn’t put any thought into it. I notice she needs sleep and a conversation and a kiss from someone who isn’t me. I notice she’s still angry at me but that there are other emotions there as well. I notice her the way you notice the differences in someone that’s been gone a long time. And it hasn’t been a long time. It’s only been long for us.
I find Naomi sleeping in my bed- sleeping off all the sleeplessness of the past months, sleeping past all the tiredness. Seeing her like that, the sheets scrunched up in her hands (she’s always been a total sheet-snatcher) and her one foot dangling over the side (she always likes it to be free), I feel like I know her. Really know her. And part of really knowing her is also knowing that I don’t necessarily know her as well as I think I do. Which is okay. We should each have our own damn souls.