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If Cohn and Levithan’s first collaboration, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, was a fantasy of teenagers in love, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is a full on fairytale, complete with Cinderella’s lost shoe. Whether or not you’ll appreciate this book depends on a number of factors. I’ve provided a small graphic to help you decide:
As a former high school nerd with a superiority complex, (it’s not that I lacked social skills necessary to make friends, I was just smarter than all of them!) I still have a soft spot for the kinds of books I would have lost my shit for a decade ago. Awkward, emotional Lily with her weird fashion and love of books could have been my queen, and I still found her chapters to resonate. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single person who would like or relate to Dash’s chapters. The character is like nails on a blackboard for the first ¾ of the story. He talks in a way no human has ever spoken, wishes people a merry wrong holiday to see their reactions, and is described by every character as “snarly”. No one wishes for their own “Snarly”. Except Lily.
Dash is home alone for Christmas. Working his parents’ bitter divorce to his advantage, he’s told both of them he’s with the other. As all 16-year old boys who find themselves alone, he revels in the solitude and goes book shopping. The horror. While at the hipster-than-yours bookshop, he comes across a red notebook next to his favorite author. It’s full of clues that lead him on a merry little chase around the store, until it’s revealed that the book was left by Lily and he should leave his contact info with her cousin at the front desk. Not willing to do anything the easy way, disenfranchised Dash leaves more clues and we’re off.
Lily is an upbeat, quirky nerd who wears her uniform shirt, even on break, under Christmas sweaters with her great-aunt’s majorette boots. Her parents have absconded to Fiji for the season, leaving her supervised only by her older brother and his boyfriend. And her fifty thousand relatives who seem to occupy every square inch of NYC, if only when convenient. Cousin Mark warns that the boy who found the red notebook is a snarly hipster, which frightens Lily, but she decides to break out of her comfort zone and play the game.
From there were employ alternating points of view to visit pizza shops, Macy’s, Madame Tussaud's, FAO Schwarz, and underground Hanukkah raves, trading the notebook and very different points of view on Christmas and humanity. At some point, Lily’s naivete and sweetness catch up to her new free-spirit attitude and she flees without leaving the notebook, but instead losing her shoe.
Eventually the relationship moves into real life. Dash is a prick. Lily is too naive. They don’t have a lot in common. Someone gets arrested. Weirdly implausible plotting, even for a fantasy. Inevitable happy end.
The good: for the most part Dash & Lily is a sweet book with a good heart. Both characters undergo growth that feels natural and genuine. Side characters are flat but diverse. The settings are easily visualized and NYC becomes a third main character. The bad: unrealistic plot lines, unnatural dialog, convenient running into characters, “Shrily” and “Snarly”.
If you’re a teenage girl, or ever were one, who doesn't feel like they fit it. If you dream of an academic guy, even if he may be a little pretentious and condescending, and a modern Cinderella story, go ahead and read Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. Just keep a dictionary handy.