‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’ By Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

The highly influential and much imitated David Levithan and Rachel Cohn have changed the young adult genre in new, exciting ways – always showcasing a world where GLBT characters are as much a part of the tapestry as anything else is. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, their third and latest, brings a touch of magic and winter romance to our recognizable modern world.

Dash is ambling about the miles of books in New York City’s famed Strand bookstore looking among the old editions of his favorite author, J. D. Salinger, when he finds a red moleskine notebook between Catchers in the Rye and Franny and Zooeys. Inside is an intriguing handwritten (in girl-sive: girl-cursive) challenge:

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.

Dash has tricked each of his divorced, estranged parents into thinking he’s staying with the other for Christmas, leaving them free to go on faraway vacations with their new lovers, and him free to do as he wishes. Somewhat a loner, Dash has no plans, does not care for Christmas, and is intrigued enough to track down the increasingly esoteric clues left by the alluring mysterious fellow bibliophile. Throughout the labyrinthine aisles of the Strand, he completes her challenges, which at one point have him leafing through a weathered copy of The Joy of Gay Sex (third edition) when a friend of his former girlfriend walks by and starts chatting with him.

So Dash plays this mysterious girl’s game, then snarkily leaves behind a set of his own clues. Which Lily responds to, and they’re off, sending each other on wildly elaborate obstacle-course-laden-scavenger-hunts through each’s favorite and least favorite parts of New York at Christmastime.

The intellectual flirtation Dash and Lily exchange in the red notebook poses an interesting sentiment in the days of myspace and Facebook, for this generation who speak through means other than face to face, with online chatting being a form sharing similarities with – yet far removed from – the romantic letter-writing of days gone by.

The story switches tracks between Dash’s (written by Levithan) and Lily’s (written by Cohn) perspectives: Lily absolutely adores Christmas: she loves Christmas attire, cookies, and caroling, which she does with a rag-tag assembled choir that includes “Shee’nah, a cross-dressing part-time choreographer/ part-time waiter, and his boi Antwon, an assistant manager at Home Depot.”

This is just one of the many peripheral inclusions of GLBT characters that are always celebrated, unapologetic, and colorful in the world of Cohn and Levithan, masters at capturing the allure of a slightly heightened urban bohemia where teenagers dash through a wintry wonderland to horribly hectic department stores and late-night/early morning concerts headlined by a gay Jewish dancepop/indie/punk band called Silly Rabbi, Tricks are for Yids – all while sharing in this notebook the experiences and memories that have hurt, defined, and made them who they are. The venue of this notebook to communicate through frees them, yet makes them worry increasingly about meeting the other imagined individual – if they meet, will they be able to carry on this amazing connection in real life as they have in the safety of the notebook?

Like all their books (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List) Dash and Lily is a joy to read, every page laced with snarky humor, youthful excitement, and dawning insight. You may leave this book like I leave all of theirs – a little bitter and longing (my high school experience wasn’t filled with healthy, exciting romance and gay people at every turn), but also happy and hopeful – this is how it can be for people coming of age, as it is becoming more often. Books like these create a world of potential and possibilities, and a little bit of magic.
By Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, 9780307915870, 272pp