I was one of those weird teenagers who refused to actually read teen books. I thought I was above them. I was a bit of a snob. So last Christmas, when I stumbled upon a new release by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan during my adventures as a bookseller, I was bizarrely intrigued. I quickly realized that this was another entry by the same authors responsible for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which my sister has been after me to read for a while now. So, as a treat to myself after my first semester of graduate work and reading only assigned texts, I decided to give Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares a shot. I’m so glad I did.
It was such a refreshing change of pace for me, especially since I frankly don’t read easy, breezy romantic comedy novels. It took a bit of time to get used to collaborative nature of Dash and Lily (Cohn wrote the chapters narrated by Lily while Levithan was responsible for Dash) and also the fun and silly teen vibe. Before this, I haven’t read a teen novel since I was about 12 and as a bookseller, I’ve noticed that the majority of young adult books are super serious and dark: all paranormal romance and depressing topics. There’s nothing wrong with that and I love dark novels too but there is something so wonderfully delicious to just fall into a fast-paced, quirky little love story that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The plot was what first intrigued me: Dash discovers a red notebook on the shelves of the Strand bookstore in Manhattan during a lonely Christmas week. It has coded messages and clues for a fun interactive game of dares. Dash, bookish and at the age of 16 already world-weary, decides to play along and thus begins a wordy romance between two offbeat teenagers. Lily, the original owner of the notebook, is a rather high-energy, eccentric young woman who loves, loves, LOVES Christmas and isn’t afraid to show it. Of course, her oddness has rendered her ill-equipped to successfully date while Dash, armed with a dysfunctional broken home and an incredibly dry wit, is still reflecting on a recent break-up (again, geeky girls are unable to date but geeky guys are. I see this quite a bit in pop culture but that’s another blog entry entirely).
Though it was kind of exhausting to have such outrageously quirky characters (Lily wears weird, second-hand clothing, how charming!) Cohn and Levithan did manage to breathe new life into what could very well have been stereotypes. Lily just manages to avoid being a full-on Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Dash manages to reign in his broodiness. Furthermore, I actually cared about these two characters. It was so awesome to read a teen book that didn’t talk down to teenagers: Dash and Lily (and their friends) were smart, unhip and sure of themselves. They knew who they were and weren’t about to change for either friends or a romantic relationship. It was great.
The other main appeal of this novel was just that it took place in New York City at Christmastime. As someone from New York and someone who has spent plenty of cold afternoons as a teenager going on ridiculous mini-adventures through the Strand, FAO Schwartz and other landmarks mentioned in this book, Dash and Lily warmed my cold little heart. Sadly, I never found a red notebook at the Strand filled with codes and puzzles and even more sadly, I never met a boy like Dash as a teenager. Oh well. I did and still have New York City and Christmas, two things that I love almost as manically as Lily does.