Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan

I had heard a lot of good buzz about Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s previous he said/she said young adult romances, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, so when I saw their latest book up on NetGalley, I was glad to get the chance to read it.

Dash and Lily are New York teens who have never met, although they both live in Manhattan and as it turns out even have friends in common. Dash is a moody, “snarly” young man, the child of divorced parents, and someone who loves reading. In the opening chapter he is browsing the aisles of the Strand bookstore when he comes across a red moleskin notebook tucked away on a shelf.  Taking it out, he finds written inside:

I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.

Intrigued, Dash begins to follow the clues around the store and, eventually, around the city. On the other end of the notebook’s back and forth is Lily, a sensitive girl who has been raised in the protective circle of her large extended family and attends an all-girls school. Her notebook adventures are the first real rebellion she’s ever shown in her life, and they represent a chance for her to step out of her comfort zone and unwind a bit.

But of course, the two are teenagers, and inevitably they are curious about one another and the potential romance that is developing along with their epistolary relationship. When they finally meet, a series of unexpected events causes them to question the bond they have formed and whether it is meant to exist in the real world or rather to remain trapped within the pages of a red notebook.

To begin with, I loved the setting of New York City at Christmastime. There’s something so magical about it, and as Dash says at one point in the book, New York is a city that never disappoints. I loved the descriptions of the Strand bookstore, too, having never had the chance to visit it myself. I got a feel for what it must be like to be a teenager growing up in New York, and it’s so different from my own suburban experience.

I also really enjoyed the character of Lily.  From what I understand about how the two co-authors work, it’s Cohn who writes the chapters from Lily’s point of view and Levithan who writes from Dash’s point of view, and both seem to really understand the mind of teenagers, or at least the differing male/female perspectives.  Lily is charming, still so very innocent and yet so eager to experience more of life. She is completely without guile and does things from a pure heart and a curious nature.

I was not as fond of the character of Dash.  Although he has his moments, he can be very pessimistic and seems to hold the world and other people to an impossible ideal. Part of that may be a result of being let down by his parents, but I got frustrated with his snobbishness and his patronizing attitude.  It isn’t until the last quarter of the book that he finally starts to feel like someone who might be worthy of Lily.

My other complaint about the book is that the dialogue often feels forced, and both Dash and Lily sound like they are writing their lines rather than speaking them. The register is not appropriate to teenagers, and there is a persistent hipness to their style of speaking that comes across as very unnatural. Maybe this is the way New York teens typically speak, but outside of a Dawson’s Creek episode you don’t normally hear such “talky” teens.

But, with the exception of the dialogue, the writing in general flows very well and I enjoyed the contrasting points of view that are maintained throughout the book.  The plot is fast-moving and witty, and the ending is satisfying.  I definitely liked the book and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another title by Cohn and Levithan.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares has a publication date of October 5, 2012.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, Harlequin UK Ltd and MIRA Ink for providing me with a review copy of this book.

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10 thoughts on “Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan

  1. Marg

    I really liked the first part of this one. I loved the search and the clues and the Christmas, although Lily is a bit too festivity loving for me in real life. I did think though that it lost something when they finally met.

    1. Beth Post author

      Ha–“a bit too festivity loving”! Yes, she certainly has the Christmas spirit. I guess I have a soft spot for her because I’m exactly the sort of person who would join a neighborhood caroling group. 🙂 I’m festivity loving, too!

      I agree that the writing took a downturn after they met. The whole thing with the moms in the park was weird. I liked the ending, though.

  2. Chinoiseries

    I’m slowly warming up to YA novels, and this book – set in a bustling city at Christmas time – seems to be right up my alley 🙂 Too bad that they got the register (ha! Sociolinguist, you!) wrong. Perhaps they should have consulted NY teenagers before writing this book?

    1. Beth Post author

      It might be worth trying–I did enjoy it, for all that I had a few complaints. Of course I thought of you when I wrote about the register. 🙂 I think all of their books are about teenagers in NY, so maybe it’s me who is out of touch, but I taught teenagers for many years and never had one that spoke like Dash & Lily do. Still, it’s a good read.

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