Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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

My local library always has a pretty generous list of book recommendations on their front page. They’re divided into grades, age ranges, genres, and seasons, and the staff swap out titles pretty regularly. Sometime last Christmas I found Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares on their Christmas YA list and it immediately caught my eye. A Christmas adventure in New York City? Count me in. Unfortunately I couldn’t get it in time for the holidays, and decided to wait until next year when I could get a hold in earlier. The anticipation was worth it.

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.’…Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

The cover blurb does not do this story justice, but it did give just enough to get me started, and I stayed utterly glued to it through the entire book. Dash & Lily is written about the only way you could make a story like this work – in alternating first-person voices. A chapter by Dash, a chapter by Lily. The only other time I tried to read a book written this way I hated it. But for some reason, after about two back-and-forths in this story, I was acclimated. And now I can clearly see that no other way could’ve been so powerful.

The opening chapter is a “Dash” chapter. And just a few pages in I was a bit worried I wouldn’t  like it as much as I hoped. Dash is a sardonic, jaded teenager with quite a bit of bitterness around the edges. He hates Christmas, is completely alone for the holidays, his parents are separated and off with their significant others, leaving Dash lost in the middle of everything. Which is actually just the way he likes it. See how that could really be a bit of a drag to read, when you’re expecting a nice little Christmas story?

But then comes Lily, a true idealist, the day to Dash’s night. She’s the polar opposite in every way. As much as he hates Christmas she loves it. She loves the bustle, the people, the crowds, everything. But she also is alone. Her parents have gone off on a romantic getaway for the first time, leaving her and her brother home alone, with a promise of Christmas on New Year’s.

Dash discovers Lily’s red notebook while going through the shelves of his favorite bookstore and completes the first few dares. But instead of leaving his contact information in it, and putting it back like he’s supposed to, he leaves a dare of his own for Lily. And so the adventure begins. While they never see each other face to face, happy go lucky but lonely Lily, and pretentious but contented Dash leave and discover each other’s clues all across New York City at Christmastime.

That’s when things got fun. But before long, you begin to see it’s much more than a fun story. It’s a friendship story. The game is only one part of the characters’ lives, but it becomes something they really need. Both alone and lonely, they each start to become what the other one needs. Dash finds someone he doesn’t mind talking to (or writing to) and sharing with. Lily finds someone able to shake her out of her perfect little bubble, and to encourage her to be something better. Dash learns how to trust, and Lily learns how to make a friend. As the chapters rolled by, I especially noticed the change in Dash’s ‘voice’. Gradually he softens and mellows out, becoming a better man by Lily’s friendship.

Because that’s what friendship is about. Not what the other person can do for you, but what you can do for each other. How can you help maybe fill a corner of their life, be that person they need. And that’s what this book is about. Two friends finding exactly what they need in each other, and filling a little void. It’s not just fun and games, either. Not just a scavenger hunt, Blue’s Clues NYC Edition. That’s only about half the book. It’s about relationships with the people that matter, and about loving someone for who they are, not just who you wish they were. Hanging in there, even when things get messy, forgiving when someone messes up, and trying again tomorrow.

This book really stood out to me from pretty much any other YA for the positivity of it. The messages about friendship couldn’t have been better, and the ending was the perfect, sweet, hopeful note it needed to be. Because that’s what the message of Christmas is – hope and goodwill to all. That’s what Dash & Lily needed, and it’s what we all need – hope. And it’s what they found.

Four stars. One star off for a couple homosexual characters (nothing graphic though), and a smattering of language. However, major props for the fact that the title characters never make out with each other. How often does that happen in YA, these days? If you’re looking for something new and different to add to your Christmas reads list, this should definitely be on there somewhere.

Are you interested in reading this? Have you read it already? What did you think of it?

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