Fiction, Romance, Young Adult

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan


I want to believe there is somebody out there for me.

I want to believe that I exist to be there for that somebody.

Somewhere between the quirky Roald Dahl novels of my youth in the late 70’s and early 80’s and the books I read now in my mid 40’s, there is the Young Adult romance genre of today. I’m very aware that I’m not in the demographic this genre is targeting. I had to remind myself of that when reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which I enjoyed and finished quickly. I had to remind myself of this again (several times, earnestly) while reading Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares.

The premise is unique and attractive, something of a “Sleepless in Seattle” motif, where two New York City teenagers–independent and far too smart for their own good–begin a “relationship,” such as it is, through letters in a red Moleskin notebook, an idea conjured up by Lily’s brother, Langston, and his boyfriend, Benny.

With twists and turns, colorful secondary characters, and the underlying question of “when and where will they finally meet in person?” Dash & Lily has a lot of potential from the get-go. Whether or not it meets that potential is a toss up.

In discussing the book with others who have read it–all adults ranging from their 20’s to 40’s–there was division. We agreed there was plenty of wisdom in the characters of Dash and Lily, some with which even “grownups” could identify. (Like in the quotes above.) We also agreed that the characters’ “teenage intellect” seems to be given a great amount of philosophical leeway. Is the modern teenager really like this? Not being one, I couldn’t tell you. I was a teenager with above-average intelligence in the 1980’s but my internal dialogue sounded nothing like the teens in these pages. (It still doesn’t.) But if a modern teenager wanted to feel very intelligent by identifying with the characters as fictional peers, I suppose that *could* be achieved here.

There is also the sexualization of the characters. Again, not being in the target audience, I don’t know if it’s accurate. These characters are both left alone by their (seemingly selfish) parents in a way I’ve never seen before. They’re sixteen years old, for Pete’s sake. (Some reality suspension, clearly.) Such independence gives way to opportunity…

So, my guess is that it (the teenage sexualization) is accurate for some, but advanced for others, depending on their upbringings and life experiences.

These conflicts make it difficult to review the book objectively, but not impossible. Personally, I didn’t much care for it. It’s merits (many) were overshadowed by its flaws (abundant.) I felt there was an underlying cry by the co-authors to the Young Adult audience it is attempting to reach, saying “please like me.” Many will. Many already have.

However, if I had a teenager, I would be offering him or her other options, of which there are plenty.

7/10 Stars


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