Lily leaves a red notebook filled with challenges on a bookstore shelf, waiting for the right boy to come along and accept her dares. When Dash finds it, he thinks he might be the right guy. As they pass the notebook back and forth in the days surrounding Christmas in New York City, both start to wonder if their real-life selves can live up to the people they’re becoming through their letters to each other.
This is the third offering from writers Cohn and Levithan. Their previous efforts were the popular Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was turned into a pretty cute movie, and the lesser-known Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List. All of the books feature a hero and heroine who meet-cute and go on some sort of adventure. It’s gimmicky, but it works for many readers. Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers.
Although both Cohn and Levithan are capable writers with undeniable skill, the characters seemed too quirky and too cutesy for me to connect with them. I found Lily to be especially grating, because although she’s led a sheltered life, she plays up her innocence to the point where it becomes annoyingly precocious instead of endearing. Where Lily is precocious, Dash is pompous, and neither character is particularly sympathetic. What starts out as an intriguing (if slightly preposterous) premise quickly devolves into something that’s a bit tiring. The idea of two teenagers who have never met corresponding in a notebook that they drop off at specific locations is hard to swallow. As the two continue to get to know each other through the notebook, the dares and revelations offer more insight into both Dash and Lily, but the entry into the inner-workings of both characters is actually a detriment to the overall story, which slows down midway through the book.
The secondary and tertiary characters in the book are supposed to provide a bit of comic relief (and Dash’s friend Boomer actually does, occasionally), but they mostly feel like stock characters from other books, characters whose quirks and quips define–instead of enhance–them. Although there are some genuinely funny moments in the story–not to mention some good writing and some genuinely funny commentary about New York and being young–the authors also try to tackle more serious issues. The sudden veering into Heavy Issue Territory bogs down the plot and confuses the light-hearted romance that is supposed to be at the center of the story.
Despite my lack of love for this book, it will find an audience somewhere. Fans of Cohn’s and Levithan’s other offerings are probably predisposed to enjoying this light read about romance during the holidays. It would be best to go in with lowered expectations, though, because for Cohn and Levithan the third time wasn’t the charm.
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2010. Library copy.