Sunday, 6 January 2013

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is a classic, modern, John Green-esque book that tells the story of two strangers in New York meeting and learning a little about each other through words. Told in alternating chapters - one from Lily’s perspective, one from Dash’s perspective - we learn how Lily leaves a moleskine notebook on the bookshelf in her favourite bookstore with a quest written inside for whoever finds it. That someone turns out to be Dash. After completing the first dare, which is supposed to culminate in him handing over his email address, Dash decides that two can play at this game and, instead of following instructions, sets Lily his own dare.

It’s interesting to think about because as the reader we get to know both Dash and Lily quite intimately, seeing their daily activities and hearing their innermost thoughts, and so it’s hard to remember that, as the story begins to grow, each of them knows the other considerably less well than the reader does. Dash and Lily are actually quite chalk and cheese: Lily loves Christmas and the fanfare it involves; Dash hates it. Lily is chirpy and full of beans; Dash’s nickname quickly becomes ‘Snarly’. And, of course, as they communicate only through dares and the written word, neither knows what the other is really dealing with in their life. This is perhaps why, when they finally meet, it doesn’t exactly go according to a romanticist’s plan. The romanticist in this case being not only Lily, but me. And this method of communication is also why, when they finally meet, I was surprised - disappointed? - that it didn’t go exactly according to a romanticist’s plan. Because, of course, I knew far more about them than they actually knew about each other.  This, however, is the beauty. It made me think; it made me question; and it made me reassess what I thought I knew about Dash and about Lily. In other words, it was made more real and realistic.

Set over the Christmas and New Year period, complete with snow and a dancing reindeer movie, this is obviously a good book to read in December. The story itself, though, will stand the test of reading at any other time of the year as well. It’s clever and funny - and gets funnier as the story goes on. Especially when Dash is unfairly labelled as a child attacker on a mommy website following an unlucky incident with a snowball. The fallout from this incident resonants into the final pages of the book in a rather wonderfully orchestrated final showdown between Dash and Lily themselves. Will they get it together or not? Either way, Lily comes out of her shell, and Dash does too, kind of.

David Levithan is a fairly prolific writer and is one of those authors whose name seems to crop up quite often yet who doesn’t seem to have become a UK household name in quite the same way that other teen authors have, like John Green - an author with whom Levithan has actually collaborated, on Will Grayson, Will Grayson. A similar tale resides with Rachel Cohn who, sadly, seems to have written more novels than are actually available in the UK. Having not yet read any of Levithan or Cohn’s other works, I don’t know exactly how well they’ll compare to John Green; after reading Dash and Lily, I’m sure  they’ll be good, but perhaps not quite as good - as lyrical - as John Green.

As for Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, it’s a lovely read, something a little different; something a little romantic without being sweet and sickly; a new take on an old idea without trying too hard. Kind of real and fanciful all at the same time; a touch of a fairytale, but tempered by normal life.

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