Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares reminded me of a weird mix between the film Serendipity and a John Green novel. I had seen this book making the rounds in the blogosphere for quite some time and was unsure whether to give it a go, however, when I spotted it for £1.99 I could hardly pass it up! Set in snowy, vibrant New York City it follows two teens during the Christmas period that take part in random, treasure hunt style escapades with the help of a mysterious red moleskin notebook. The concept was hard to resist, and once I read the first chapter and discovered the story began with a character pursuing the famous Strand bookshop, I knew I was going to like this story!
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.
At the urge of her lucky-in-love brother, sixteen-year-old Lily has left a red notebook full of dares on her favourite bookshop shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept.
Curious, snarky Dash isn’t one to back down from a challenge – and the Book of Dares is the perfect thing to keep him occupied this Christmas.
As they send each other on a snowbound scavenger hunt across Manhatten, they’re falling for each other on paper. But finding out if their real selves share their on-page chemistry could be their biggest dare yet.
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is unusual by bookish standards from the point of view that it has two writers. I always approach these author tag team situations with an element of caution because I’m never sure if they’re going to work, but Cohn and Levithan took an interesting approach by claiming a protagonist each and alternating point of views which worked really well. The technique gave Dash and Lily distinct voices, but the authors’ styles were also compatible to the point where I felt the story was written by one person and the transitions were smooth, seamless and enjoyable! Both authors had refreshing, quirky writing styles that poked fun at everyday life in an amusing and intellectually witty way that often had me nodding enthusiastically or admiring their clever word choices. They use plenty of long and obscure words – at times to the point of ridiculousness (some might even call it pretentious), and for the grammar and vocab fanatics there’s plenty of nerdy puns to keep you entertained!
The plot of this novel was pretty fun. The concept alone of two teens communicating by pouring their hearts out through a notebook had me feeling giddy. It seems more like something that would happen in an old fashioned film than in the modern world which makes me kind of sad. It was fun to follow along with their journey as they rushed around some famous (and not so famous) destinations in New York setting each other random tasks like going to sit on Santa’s lap when your far past the socially acceptable age and visiting Madame Tussauds. The pair discuss all sorts of topics along the way from family and friendship to love and in Dash’s case, his hipster anguish over materialism. They disclose their deepest hopes and fears to each other despite never having met, the anonymity barrier giving them the opportunity and protection to be completely honest. As the story progresses, Dash and Lily consider whether they should meet or if the magic of their relationship will burst when the notebook is out of the picture and I loved the authors’ explorations of the theme of knowing someone on paper vs knowing someone in real life. It seems especially relevant in an age where such large chunks of our relationships can develop and take place on social networks. With the help of instant messaging you can get to know people well and form preconceived judgments, but barely know them as a real life, physical person! I thought it was an interesting parallel.
So, right about now you’re probably wondering why with all the positives this book is brandishing three stars. To put it bluntly, I felt like there was something missing, which is a shame because I really wanted to love this book! I kept waiting for the moment when everything would roll into a bundle of awesome but it never quite reached those heights, like one of those songs that fails to produce a satisfying crescendo. I kept wishing the authors would push the themes and boundaries further past the typical YA contemporary cliché’s to transport the book from ‘okay’ to ‘squealing with excitement I don’t want to put this down’ territory. There were also a lot of little things that bugged me which slowly built up over time – the convenience of both teens having their parents out of town, the fact that Lily’s relatives were so accepting and happy for her to communicate with a mysterious guy (He could have been anybody, he could have been a creepy person!) how both teens spoke so eloquently (to the point where I was tempted to roll my eyes) even though their narration felt more immature than their years. Plus some aspects I found too farfetched, even for a YA Christmas story.
The characters were also a bit of a let down. Dash is funny, extremely introverted, slightly snobbish (which he just about gets away with) and detests Christmas with a fiery vengeance, often mocking people taking part in festive traditions. In comparison Lily is quirky and bubbly but suffers from a sheltered life as she is surrounded by family who are always looking out for her, she also adores and embraces everything Christmas from carol singing to spending time with her family. I loved that the two characters had such contrasting ideas about Christmas because it made me think a lot about what the holiday means and how it can be celebrated so differently by various people. Unfortunately, while both Lily and Dash had interesting elements to their personalities and were in an intriguing situation, I never felt like I fully connected to them or became invested in their story. Part of the reason might have been that they were a bit John Green-ish in terms of authenticity, but I also think it’s because they could have done so much more to dig deeper into their personalities and make them feel that bit more real. Additionally, none of the side characters made an impression so the main characters didn’t have a lot to play off, although bonus points to the authors for adding in a gay couple in a totally natural and unfuss like way!
Overall Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares in one word? Cute! It’s a story that has a lot of great elements to it, the fun dare game, bookish appreciation conversations and the occasional insightful remark. It fits the lighthearted Christmas book quota and is a fun as long as you can suspend your belief and skirt over some of the convenient plot points. I think if I had connected with the characters more and hadn’t struggled with the pretentious, trying too hard narration at times this novel would have easily gotten 4 shining stars from me. The teens with dialogue too intellectual for their years situation is something that always bugs me, but if it’s something you enjoy I’m sure you will love Dash and Lily’s escapades! I would recommend this book to people 11+ who love quirky characters, cutesy love stories and John Green novels. While this review comes somewhat after Christmas, the book might be worth considering for the next time it comes around! I shall leave you with this gem of a quote which has already become a new favourite. 🙂
“I was attempting to write the story of my life. It wasn’t so much about plot. It was much more about character.” – Pg 198
Writing Style: 3/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.