Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is an epistolary novel co-authored by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Their earlier collaborations include Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi and Eli’s No Kiss List, which caters to teens, just like this one. The cover was appealing but a bit too cutesy for its own good. Heart shaped snowflakes really? But don’t let it deceive you. It is not just a Christmas romance though it is set during Christmas in Manhattan, when there is snow in the air and good cheer.
It is alternatively narrated by Lily (written by Rachel Cohn) and Dash (written by David Levithan). Dash and Lily write dares and thoughts in a red Moleskine notebook which Dash finds next to Lily’s favourite author (which also happens to be his) while perusing through the books in Strand Book Store (yes the one and only). The idea was devised by Langston (named after Langston Hughes), Lily’s older brother so that she finds someone to share her Christmas excitement with (she loves Christmas like only children can and she is not a child so that does make it a little odd) as he will be busy with his boyfriend and their parents will be out of town.
Lily is a shy teenager, good at football and overprotected by her family. She does not fit in and has no friends at school though her lovable extended family more than make up for it. Her cousin Mark and Great Aunt Ida make for great secondary characters and play a significant role in safeguarding the notebook.
Lily’s notebook is picked up by Dash who hates the idea of Christmas. He is an introvert and comfortable in his own company. A child of divorce, he’s used to taking care of himself and guards his solitude fiercely. Dash’s best friend Boomer, is overexcited and overeager (for his age) not unlike a toddler on a sugar rush providing us with many funny moments. I thought theirs would be an unlikely friendship but they complement each other well. Yin and Yang.
Through impossible dares Dash and Lily accept, designed to push themselves out of their comfort zones, they see new sides to themselves. They grow together and confide their innermost longings to each other in a notebook. Sharing a common ground with an anonymous if not nameless but faceless stranger can be a powerful connection. Would it have been better (read more acceptable) if they had done it face to face or had it been a conversation on the phone? It isn’t the mode of communication that matters but the connection. Or is it just plain idiocy trusting someone’s words, someone whom you have never seen or met, in this age of dishonesty? It’s Kali Yuga after all.
Here the the barriers in real everyday life appear to dissolve and the playing field is vast. I mean anyone could have picked up that notebook. It goes on to show how we box ourselves and allow others to pigeonhole us, put labels, when we can go beyond it and be so much more alive.
Lily and Dash are book nerds hence the usage of words isn’t what would constitute normal teenage banter. Nevertheless the writing is contemporary although you might feel out of your element (read bored) if you don’t share their love for words. Take a look at these lines:
“I particularly loved the adjective bookish, which I found other people used about as often as ramrod or chum or teetotaler.”“I was horribly bookish, to the point of coming right out and saying it, which I knew was not socially acceptable.”
“We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn’t trust a bookstore, what could you trust?
When I had read it years ago I had loved the book. I believed in many impossible things and saw the world as being full of possibilities. Perhaps now I’m too jaded to believe in the magic that was a part of their connection. As fate would have it, I opened the page where they were parting after a first meeting which was quite unexpected. Seeing each other in person, in flesh and blood for the first time in the real world away from the imagery, and the world built up by their words, where you can neither run nor hide behind the armour of words, is a big deal. There is a possibility of disillusionment and rewiring of set expectations. Real world crashing with the ideal world is shown splendidly.
“I find I very rarely live up to my words. And since you know me primarily through my words, there are oh so many ways I can disappoint.”“You have to trust the words. They do not create anything more than themselves.”
“Be careful what you’re doing, because no one is ever who you want them to be. And the less you really know them, the more likely you are to confuse them with the girl or boy in your head”