Book Review: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is the story of two people who first meet on the pages of a red moleskin notebook. One day Dash is perusing the shelves of his favorite bookstore, the Strand, and instead of a first edition Salinger, he finds a notebook challenging him to follow the dares left for him by a girl named Lily and leave some of his own in return. As they follow the clues (and dares) of a total stranger, Dash and Lily end up everywhere from NYC’s Macy’s during the week before Christmas to a club in the middle of the night (listening to a band called Sorry Rabbi, Tricks are for Yids). Each dare reveals something new about Dash and Lily and brings them closer to the day they will actually meet. When that day finally arrives, they are forced to reconcile the versions of each other they had in their heads with the real thing.

This book has a frenetic energy about it, like everything is happening so quickly that neither Dash nor Lily can keep their changing opinions straight. It’s like an explosion of hormones and opinions and pretentious language and really honest emotion, all barely contained within a shell of insecurity and feigned apathy. It’s like this book is screaming, “READ ME IF YOU ARE A TEENAGER. NO, SERIOUSLY.”

In true Levithan-Cohn style, this book is full of snarky dialogue, the craziest and most awesome array of characters ever (from a gay Jewish hipster couple to a family not unlike the mafia, if you replace violence with Christmas cheer), and a plotline so ridiculous and serendipitous that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy yourself.

Even with all of this to choose from, what I love most about this book is that it is a romance that isn’t really a romance. In most YA romances, the narrator is usually a girl who develops an all-consuming crush on a boy, they meet, and then lots of sexy scenes are spliced together with lots of mushy, let’s-express-our-feelings scenes. While these books are definitely fun to read, they aren’t always the most honest or healthy portrayal of what a couple can be like.

For most of this novel, Dash and Lily never actually occupy the same space. The promise of romance is always there, but it takes a backseat to the emotional development of the characters. Because of the dares they challenge each other with, both Dash and Lily are forced to look at the world through someone else’s eyes: they challenge each other’s ideas, they unknowingly push each other outside of their comfort zones, and they ultimately help each other form a better understanding of themselves.

So Much Better Than the Movie

I’ve been thinking lately about books that make the jump to the big screen, spurred most recently by a discussion over at Feministing about Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The comments there have brought up issues of who makes certain decisions about a film (was Norah’s flannel left out by the screenwriter, the costume designers, or the director?), the sacrifices screenmakers make in order to make a book more “filmic,” and what it means when films deviate significantly from their source text.

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Joseph’s Lexically Limited Review of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Late in the movie, Norah tells Nick about the Judaic concept of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that translates to “repairing the world.” It turns out to be the perfect phrase to chart the course of two characters who begin the film broken but find solace in one wild New York night. [view trailer] Continue reading