Fred Gorrell's Reviews > Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn
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's review
Jul 10, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction-youngadult
Read in June, 2011

This is a very entertaining book, both for young adults and adults who enjoy coming-of-age stories and clever writing. It may be a bit difficult for younger readers to follow, and some parents may take offense at some material. The book is set in New York, the two main characters are very sophisticated urban teens, and so there are some topics that will set off alarms for some parents.

One of the redeeming qualities of this book, as with other books by these authors, is that the characters live in a world full of things that scare many parents, and they take all these things in stride, then by the end of the story, they make good decisions that are grounded in self respect, respect for others, and good sense. These characters are able to acknowledge that there are some things they are not yet ready to explore, without being overwhelmed by peer pressure or feeling "loss of face." They set a great example.

Lily, the main female character, is at once clear about her insecurities and yet clever in ways most of us can only wish we had been, after the moment has passed. The entire story is based on one such action: as she is shy and has not enjoyed meeting boys in more traditional ways, she writes a dare in a composition book, takes it to her favorite bookstore, and shelves it next to a book she suspects might be sought out by the kind of boy she wants to meet.

Dash, the main male character, finds the dare and acts on it, leaving a clue about what Lily should do next, along with the composition book, at a different location. The two pursue one another this way without actually meeting through most of the story; the climax is when they actually do meet.

One student who read the book drew a connection between the passing of this book and texting. He remarked that many teens are more comfortable building new relationships through messaging, which gives them time to think about how they want to present themselves. They find face-to-face situations more challenging, at least initially.

Some of my students, upon hearing that the story involves teenagers frequenting book stores, were put off and walked away. Others who weren't bothered by that decided to quit reading because they were having trouble following the action or didn't get the point. Those who responded to the cat and mouse adventure, the skillful portrayal of tentative teen self-confidence, or the romance, often enjoyed the book greatly; some went on to read other books by these same authors, including Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (which is considerably more edgy than this book). In retrospect, if a reader wanted to read all three of these titles, the best sequence might be to read this second, after reading ... No Kiss List.

Some notes by David Levithan, one of the authors, suggest that Ms. Cohn wrote the chapters in Lily's voice while he wrote the ones in Dash's voice (narration alternates between them), and that the story was developed as chapters were emailed back and forth. Mr. Levithan may have used the same technique in his collaboration with the celebrated young adult fiction author John Green, with whom he co-authored Will Grayson, Will Grayson. These are not the first books written he-said, she-said - some students may already have seen this format in Flipped - but that book was written by a single author. I'm unaware of other instances of young adult work written this way by two authors, though it may be a method used on screen plays for television series. While reading this book, there were times when the story took peculiar turns, which left me wondering if the authors were in their own cat-and-mouse chase, throwing curveballs from time to time and dropping red herrings.

Advanced readers may be find it exhilarating to attempt collaborating on some writing in this mode. Also, there are natural lead-ins to some reading, writing, and viewing extensions from each of these books. Teens sometimes resist watching black-and-white films, but the connection between Nick & Norah (from ...Infinite Playlist) and the main characters from the Thin Man films might be enough to get them to watch some of these wonderful classic comedies. Students might also find it engaging to research the relationship between Dashiell Hammett and Lilian Hellman, the namesakes of this book, and draw connections, or to revisit the Biblical tale of Ruth to explore connections to the characters drawn in ...No Kiss List.

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