Cohn and Levithan use a familiar but fun formula for this holiday-themed collaboration--think Saint Nick & Norah--mixing an enticing premise with offbeat characters and some introspective soul searching. Two New York City teens left alone for Christmas "meet" when Dash discovers Lily's cryptic notebook wedged between J.D. Salinger books at the Strand. Its clues lead him on a treasure hunt through the bookstore; he responds with his own clues, and soon they are using the notebook to send each other on adventures across the city and to trade their "innermost feelings and thoughts." Fans will enjoy the zingy descriptions and characterizations that populate this Big Apple romp (at one point, Dash must reach inside the coat of the Macy's Santa to retrieve Lily's message; later, he sends her to go see a "gay Jewish dancepop/indie/punk band called Silly Rabbi, Tricks Are for Yids"). Readers will be ready for the real romance to start long before the inevitable conclusion, but as with this duo's past books, there are more than enough amusing turns of phrase and zigzag plot twists to keep their attention. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Cynthia Levinson
The premise of this smart, funny yet touching novel has the two protagonists, Dash (short for Dashiell) and Lily, getting to know each other by writing about themselves in Lily's red Moleskin notebook, which they hide in obscure locations for the other to find. Dash first finds the notebook, four days before Christmas, while scanning the shelves at New York's Strand Book Store. Though they've never met, they soon share their innermost feelings and thoughts. In addition to being unpopular (she gets along with everybody by not being friends with anyone) and weird, Lily's life is complicated by the fact that her parents are considering moving to Fiji, where they are vacationing over the holiday, leaving her behind with her older brother and his boyfriend. With divorced parents, Dash, too, is on his own. Her Christmas wish is to believe that she will find her special person. Dash's wish is to make enough money to buy the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. Though in different ways, each is looking for meaning. Told in alternating first-person accounts, the story is also peppered with quirky characters (such as her Grandpa, who is trying to convince a widow nicknamed Glamma to marry him) and locations (for instance, a nightclub holding a Hannukah show and guarded by a drag-queen). When Dash and Lily finally meet, they land in high jinks. The ending is equally creative, improbable, and satisfying. Reviewer: Cynthia Levinson
VOYA - Betsy Johnston
With Christmas vacation looking dismal, Lily accepts her brother's challenge and leaves a red moleskin notebook cleverly positioned on a shelf in the Strand bookstore. Inside are clues that she hopes will lead to her perfect mate, date, or even first kiss. "Word nerd" Dash discovers the notebook and relishes the escape from the "ersatz cheer" of Christmas that the puzzle-like dares propose. As the notebook travels back and forth, the clues encourage Lily and Dash to reveal their inner thoughts. But when they eventually meet, it is far from kismet. On New Year's Eve they accidentally get locked inside the Strand. It is neither the perfect date nor the perfect kiss, but it does give them the perfect opportunity to anticipate a special relationship. Cohn and Levithan (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist [Knopf/Random House,2006]) obviously had fun creating the alternating voices of Lily and Dash. Both are refreshing and likable in their individuality and quest for self-discovery. Love of the literary does not preclude them from acting like other sixteen year olds. Lily takes sips of alcohol (disastrous results), and Dash spews the odd f-bomb. Full of New York City experiencesMadame Tussaud's Wax Galleryand humorous slapstick scenesDash's encounter with Macy's Santathe plot also contains a few twists. Although a gay relationship is out in the open, there is no graphic sex. Full of crisp vocabulary and diverse media and literary references, this light-hearted romance should have broad appeal. Reviewer: Betsy Johnston
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Dash and Lily, 16, find themselves on their own in Manhattan at Christmas. Dash is alone by choice—he's told each of his divorced parents that he's spending the holiday with the other, leaving them both to take vacations out of town. Lily's parents are taking the honeymoon they couldn't afford when they got married. They think that Lily is in the capable hands of her older brother, but he's less interested in her than in his new boyfriend, and then he gets sick and spends most of the holiday in bed. He does, however, start in motion the activity that is central to the story. It involves a red Moleskine notebook with a list of literary clues that Lily leaves in the stacks at the Strand bookstore. Bookish and erudite Dash finds it and is intrigued enough to follow Lily's lead and leave some clues of his own. The dares in the book's title refer to innocent things such as going to various crowded places like Macy's and FAO Schwartz to pick up messages. As the dares go on, the teens reveal more and more about themselves in the pages of the notebook, until they finally meet under the worst possible circumstances. While the words, ideas, and sentiments are not those of typical kids, they are not out of the realm of possibility for well-read teens. As they did in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Knopf, 2006), the authors combine their talents to write an appealing book. It makes readers long to buy a notebook, begin filling its pages, and find a friend who might turn out to be more. This book will spend as much time off the shelf as Lily's notebook.—Suanne Roush, Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
Grudging hipster love story meets un-ironic Christmas romance in this dual-narrator tale—an awkward but ultimately acceptable pairing not unlike that of the two title characters. One afternoon in late December, pretentious, world-weary Dash visits "that bastion of titillating erudition," New York City's Strand Bookstore. Next to a copy of his beloved Franny and Zooey, Dash discovers a red notebook with instructions inside for a sort of scavenger hunt through the store. He responds with an assignment of his own, and soon he and the elusive Lily are sending each other on absurd adventures throughout the city. The two are ringed by a merry band of side characters—among them, an unnervingly friendly department-store Santa, a big-hearted oaf and a pair of gay, fedora-topped "unorthodox Jews"—but the real show-stealer is Lily, an unabashed cookie-baking, embroidered-reindeer-skirt-wearing, dog-loving and ever so occasionally tantrum-throwing force of nature. Believable? No. Formulaic? A bit. But good fun, with some wisdom to boot. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
You're in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves. You get to the section where a favorite author's books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook.
What do you do?
The choice, I think, is obvious:
You take down the red notebook and open it.
And then you do whatever it tells you to do.
It was Christmastime in New York City, the most detestable time of the year. The moo-like crowds, the endless visits from hapless relatives, the ersatz cheer, the joyless attempts at joyfulness--my natural aversion to human contact could only intensify in this context. Wherever I went, I was on the wrong end of the stampede. I was not willing to grant "salvation" through any "army." I would never care about the whiteness of Christmas. I was a Decemberist, a Bolshevik, a career criminal, a philatelist trapped by unknowable anguish--whatever everyone else was not, I was willing to be. I walked as invisibly as I could through the Pavlovian spend-drunk hordes, the broken winter breakers, the foreigners who had flown halfway across the world to see the lighting of a tree without realizing how completely pagan such a ritual was.
The only bright side of this dim season was that school was shuttered (presumably so everyone could shop ad nauseam and discover that family, like arsenic, works best in small doses . . . unless you prefer to die). This year I had managed to become a voluntary orphan for Christmas, telling my mother that I was spending it with my father, and my father that I was spending it with my mother, so that each of them booked nonrefundable vacations with their post-divorce paramours. My parents hadn't spoken to each other in eight years, which gave me a lot of leeway in the determination of factual accuracy, and therefore a lot of time to myself.
I was popping back and forth between their apartments while they were away--but mostly I was spending time in the Strand, that bastion of titillating erudition, not so much a bookstore as the collision of a hundred different bookstores, with literary wreckage strewn over eighteen miles of shelves. All the clerks there saunter-slouch around distractedly in their skinny jeans and their thrift-store button-downs, like older siblings who will never, ever be bothered to talk to you or care about you or even acknowledge your existence if their friends are around . . . which they always are. Some bookstores want you to believe they're a community center, like they need to host a cookie-making class in order to sell you some Proust. But the Strand leaves you completely on your own, caught between the warring forces of organization and idiosyncrasy, with idiosyncrasy winning every time. In other words, it was my kind of graveyard.
I was usually in the mood to look for nothing in particular when I went to the Strand. Some days I would decide that the afternoon was sponsored by a particular letter, and would visit each and every section to check out the authors whose last names began with that letter. Other days, I would decide to tackle a single section, or would investigate the recently unloaded tomes, thrown in bins that never really conformed to alphabetization. Or maybe I'd only look at books with green covers, because it had been too long since I'd read a book with a green cover.
I could have been hanging out with my friends, but most of them were hanging out with their families or their Wiis. (Wiis? Wiii? What is the plural?) I preferred to hang out with the dead, dying, or desperate books--used we call them, in a way that we'd never call a person, unless we meant it cruelly. ("Look at Clarissa . . . she's such a used girl.")
I was horribly bookish, to the point of coming right out and saying it, which I knew was not socially acceptable. I particularly loved the adjective bookish, which I found other people used about as often as ramrod or chum or teetotaler.
On this particular day, I decided to check out a few of my favorite authors, to see if any irregular editions had emerged from a newly deceased person's library sale. I was perusing a particular favorite (he shall remain nameless, because I might turn against him someday) when I saw a peek of red. It was a red Moleskine--made of neither mole nor skin, but nonetheless the preferred journal of my associates who felt the need to journal in non-electronic form. You can tell a lot about a person from the page she or she chooses to journal on--I was strictly a college-ruled man myself, having no talent for illustration and a microscopic scrawl that made wide-ruled seem roomy. The blank pages were usually the most popular--I only had one friend, Thibaud, who went for the grid. Or at least he did until the guidance counselors confiscated his journals to prove that he had been plotting to kill our history teacher. (This is a true story.)
There wasn't any writing on the spine of this particular journal--I had to take it off the shelf to see the front, where there was a piece of masking tape with the words DO YOU DARE? written in black Sharpie. When I opened the covers, I found a note on the first page.
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.
The handwriting was a girl's. I mean, you can tell. That enchanted cursive. Either way, I would've endeavored to turn the page.
So here we are.
1. Let's start with French Pianism.
I don't really know what it is,
but I'm guessing
nobody's going to take it off the shelf.
Charles Timbrell's your man.
Do not turn the page
until you fill in the blanks
(just don't write in the notebook, please)
From the Hardcover edition.