Wow, was this the perfect example of right book at the right time. I wanted a fun and light Christmas read and decided it was about time I gave Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan a go. I'm so very glad I did. It was exactly what I wanted, fun, light and Chritmasy, but with also smart and witty.
Dash is a cynical jaded teen who has orchestrated a Christmas alone by telling each of his parents he is spending it with the other. During his boring lonely winter break he is perusing the Strand (that mecca of used book stores) when he spots a red journal amongst the books by his favorite author. Intrigued he pulls it off the shelf and finds a series of clues leading him through several sections of the bookstore and to an invitation to begin a correspondence with a girl named Lily. To keep it interesting he continues what she has begun with the notebook scavenger hunt rather than just giving her his email address.
Lily is an optimistic girl full of hope and the Christmas spirit (despite being mostly an atheist) which is why she is so affronted when her parents go to Fiji for a second honeymoon and her grandfather stays at his winter home in Florida to spend Christmas with his lady friend. Her older brother is supposed to be looking after her but only wants to spend time with his new boyfriend. In order to get Lily out of their hair the boys take her new red journal, concoct a plan to leave clues in it, and tell her where to place it, next to her favorite book in the Strand. (Because if there was a guy anywhere for Lily that would be the section he would be in.) Lily is not optimistic that anyone "much less a prospect from that highly coveted but extremely elusive Teenage Boy Who Actually Reads and Hangs Out at the Strand species" would respond, so she is surprised and pleased, but cautious, when Dash does.
Thus begins Dash and Lily's correspondence via red notebook that also has them sending each other all over the city of New York in search of hints and tasks before the notebook can be passed off to the other again. Over the holidays Dash and Lily find themselves being surprisingly honest which each other and increasingly intrigued. But do they take a chance and meet in person or confine their relationship to a series of exchanged notebook entries?
Take one snarkily intelligent yet vulnerable boy, add one socially awkward yet gregarious girl, and throw in a healthy dose of one of my favorite cities in the world and I'm most likely going to enjoy myself. Enjoying to the point of sacrificing sleep to finish I was not expecting, yet I was hooked from the first few pages. The book switches point of view between Dash and Lily and it starts with Dash. And Dash is exactly the sort of character I can't help but fall for. Lily's voice contrasts perfectly with his and it was not long before I was behind each 110%, not only in their quest to figure out their relationship but in all the other parts of their lives. Dash and Lily don't sound like your average teens, because they are not average teens. Both are well read and highly intellectual. Yet I found their voices to be genuine. They are intelligent and mature, but they are still young and trying to figure out the world, how it works, and their places in it.
I further enjoyed the way that the story was a genuine look at romance. There were no sparks or love at first sight ridiculousness. There was no oh-I-have-found-the-only-possible-person-for-me to-be-with-for-all-eternity-at-the-age-of-16 nonsense. There was a lot about reconciling the person in your head with the reality of an actual person. And the risk involved in trusting an actual person with your heart, or even the idea of trusting them with it. The entire plot, with its themes of love not being a fate driven fairy tale, was well executed and thoroughly enjoyable.
Also the book had me laughing so hard my sides hurt at times. All courtesy of Dash, who is well and truly awesome in all his sarcastic, word loving, compulsive, uptight, cynical, vulnerable and afraid glory.
Rachel Cohn and David Levithan are more famous for penning the book turned movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which I have neither read nor seen. I may need to rectify that now.
Note on Content: Sex is a topic under discussion and mentioned several times. It is clear that Lily's brother is having a sexual relationship with his boyfriend and Dash thinks about the topic a bit, but there are no details or descriptions. There is also some strong language in the book.