Friday, January 7, 2011

Do You Dare?

If you want to start your Christmas shopping early, run right out and get Dash & Lily's Book of Dares for a young person in your life (or an older person who loves a good YA read). It's a great story anytime, but it takes place over Christmas, which makes it a perfect choice in December. I read it in the weeks before Christmas, and it made me all warm and holiday-spirit-y inside. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, authors of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List, teamed up again to write alternating chapters of this novel.

Dash is home alone for Christmas. He lied to his mother, telling her he was spending Christmas with his father.  He lied to his father, telling him he was spending Christmas with his mother. As a result, both parents booked vacations with their "post-divorce paramours." Since his parents haven't spoken in 8 years, this situation leaves him with a lot of time to spend alone, doing what he loves most, hanging out in the Strand bookstore. Although he is a popular kid who could be spending time with his friends and their families, he actually embraces the opportunity to spend the time alone. He hates Christmas and looks upon his self-imposed hermitage as an escape from the holiday hubbub.

Lily is home with her older brother Langston for Christmas. Their parents fled New York City for a second honeymoon. Grandpa, who lives upstairs, is on his way to Florida to propose to his Snowbird girlfriend. Langston sees their parents' absence as an opportunity to hole up with his new boyfriend Benny. Lily, however, LOVES Christmas, from the caroling (she organized her own caroling society), to the shopping, to the movies, to the baking (she and her mother baked all the cookies ahead of time  to be enjoyed when the family is together again). Even though their family plans to celebrate Christmas on New Year's Eve, when everyone has returned, Lily is devastated. She is abandoned and alone on Christmas.

At this point enters a red, Moleskine notebook, one of the key players in the story. 

Langston and Benny develop the notebook scheme as part of their quest to find Lily a boyfriend and keep her busy while they enjoy their time together. Although Lily is in no rush to find a boyfriend, her disappointment about being alone for the holidays and her curiosity allow her to relent.  The initial questions in the notebook are designed to weed out all but suitable suitors, those who would be interesting and literate. “Are you going to be playing for the pure thrill of unreluctant desire?” 

Dash finds the notebook when he is browsing the shelves at the Strand, his favorite bookstore. It was right next to his favorite author's books (J.D. Salinger) and bore a note written in black Sharpie that inquired "DO YOU DARE?"  Now, really, wouldn't you?  Dash answers some of the questions that have been left in the book, which lead him on a scavenger hunt of sorts, until he reaches a page that reads:

So here we are.
Now it's up to you,
what we do (or don't) do.


If you do all these things,
you very well might hear from me.
Thank you.

In the next several days, Lily and Dash lead each other on a chase around the city. They leave clues with their friends and family and hide the notebook in various New York landmarks. In the meantime, they develop an epistolary friendship as they leave pieces of themselves in the pages of the red, Moleskine notebook. They grow fond of each other as they JUST MISS meeting each other several times. There is a lot of discussion of whether they should meet, or whether they are each other's soul mates in real life or in idea only. Should they meet? Do they really understand each other better than anyone else? Would their friendship hold up in the real world?

Unfortunately, when they do meet, it is under Shakespearian circumstances. The despondent Lily, having given up on a relationship with Dash, strikes up a relationship with Edgar Thibaud, an old acquaintance from elementary school who turned out to be cute and charming (but ultimately still a jerk). She gets drunk accidentally at a party with her caroling friends and almost literally runs into Dash as she is about to waste her first (drunken) kiss on the charming-but-heinous Edgar Thibaud. Although Dash does the honorable thing by escorting Lily home safely while Edgar remains at the karaoke party, he cannot hide his disappointment that this flesh-and-blood Lily does not resemble the dream girl of his notebook. The despondent Dash, having given up on a relationship with the Lily-of-the-Notebook, attends a New Year's Eve party where he sleeps with his ex-girlfriend Sofia, who recently moved to Spain but is visiting for the holidays.

And now what? Are Dash and Lily meant to be? Are they doomed by the failure of their real selves to meet the expectations of their "notebook selves?" Can the network of friends and family who helped bring them together, and then tear them apart, bring them together again? And what will happen when the parents come home?

Cohn and Levithan are talented at capturing what it means to be a young adult who is trying to find his or her self withing the labyrinth that is adolescence. Their voices are authentic, and they create a magical charisma between the main characters. For those who understand this reference, reading Dash & Lily's Book of Dareswoohoo, but it's not particularly graphic, and the characters learn from the choices they make. Although it is very much a book about relationships, it's not a "girly" book, and I think plenty of boys would find it engaging. I'm not familiar enough with the New York City landmarks to get much out of them, but they will appeal to anyone who knows the city. Read it. I double dog dare you.

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