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Review: Mind The Gap, Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Mind The Gap, Dash & Lily (Dash & Lily #2)
Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Allen & Unwin
2020, 248p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Timed to coincide with the Netflix release of DASH AND LILY, Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily serves up a new helping of love, friendship and Christmas as best-selling authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan send Dash and Lily to England – to find their futures, and hopefully find each other again as well.

After Dash gets accepted into Oxford University and Lily stays in New York to take care of her dog-walking business, the devoted couple struggle to make a long-distance relationship work. And when Dash breaks the news that he won’t be coming home for Christmas, Lily makes a decision: if Dash can’t return to New York, she’ll just have to go to London.

It’s a perfect romantic gesture… that spins out of Lily’s control. Soon Dash and Lily are feeling more of a gap between them, even though they’re in the same city. Will London bring them together again – or will it be their undoing?

This wonderful holiday read will delight readers from start to finish.

I knew it’d been a really long time since I’d read Dash & Lily’s Book Of Dares but I didn’t know it was a whopping 10 years! I remember how much I enjoyed it and how cute I thought it was and when I saw this I thought it would be really fun to revisit Dash & Lily and see what they’re up to now. There’s actually a second Dash & Lily book that somehow passed me by. I haven’t read that but it really doesn’t matter.

Dash and Lily are doing the long distance relationship thing. Although Dash was accepted to a university in New York, he was also accepted to Oxford, in England and that’s his dream. Lily encouraged him to accept the offer, even though she knew it would separate them. Lily herself was accepted to the same college her mother and all the other women in her family went to, much to her surprise but she’s taking a gap year and building her dog walking business and branching out into dog-related crafts. It’s actually going really well and now she’s not sure she wants to go to college at all, but that will horrify her family.

Lily decides to go to London for Christmas to surprise Dash when he tells her that he won’t be coming back to New York. They’ve been struggling a bit as Dash isn’t one for the more modern forms of communication. However when she arrives, Lily realises that the surprise might not have been the best idea. This Dash is not the Dash she knows and soon Lily wonders if the gap has become too big….even when they’re both in London.

Both Dash and Lily are struggling with the idea of the future. Dash had a sort of grand idea that he’d come to Oxford and it’d be like some timeslip or something and everyone there would be engaging in intellectual discussions in front of roaring fires or something. But instead they’re normal teenagers, just like everywhere else, checking Instagram and the like on their phones. Coming to the first exam session, he’s feeling quite disillusioned and a bit anxious, like perhaps this wasn’t what he wanted after all. And for Lily, she knows that the college she applied for and was accepted to, isn’t where she wants to go. She’s got some ideas, some of them a bit more out there than others but she also knows that her family are going to revolt. They’re already upset with her for choosing to be with Dash in London instead of in New York with them.

I had honestly forgotten how protective of her Lily’s family were and how much they seem to baby her and the snark of her cousin and brother. It’s been a decade after all! By contrast Dash’s family are quite distant, although he’s built a good relationship with his grandmother, who lives in London. He’s very surprised to see Lily and it doesn’t go very smoothly at first. They have some trouble communicating, Lily feels left out of this new life, left out of how Dash is feeling. And Dash – he was actually quite rude in the first part of the book. Lily’s family are pretty horrible to him though and he sort of just has to let it roll off and even though they’re just eighteen with lots of life left ahead of them before the whole “settling down” thing, it’s something that needs to be addressed so that Lily doesn’t feel so constantly attacked and in the middle. Their actions towards Dash are really quite childish.

I’ve never been to London, so I can’t really say if it gave that ‘feeling’. But I did find it some sort of miracle that Lily was able to secure a room at Claridges’ of all places with zero notice over the Christmas period. You’d think they’d be booked out well in advance. But anyway. This was cute without really being anything spectacular. I was surprised how unlikeable I found Dash at first although I feel like the book did establish why he was feeling this way. I enjoyed Lily as a character and I could relate to her indecision about her future. Lily felt pressured, buttonholed into something that probably wasn’t going to be for her. She’d bought some time and was developing something that really worked for her (it was good money, even if it didn’t seem like her parents took it seriously) but she needed to be able to express herself to them about her future, even if she hadn’t exactly figured it out yet. Lily’s mother seems very manipulative though. The whole cancelling Christmas thing? Again, childish.

This is probably a perfect Christmas read when your mind is busy with other things like family and food and holiday preparations and you just want something that isn’t going to take too much space in your brain, with people that are familiar. It was good to revisit Dash and Lily and see how they’re doing in that next stage of their lives, which is a really important one, full of finding out things about yourself and what you want.

I am really looking forward to the Netflix series of Dash & Lily – that should be super fun.

7/10

Book #201 of 2020

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Gingerbread – Rachel Cohn

After reading Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares recently and loving it, I decided to investigate each of the authors a little more. I chose Rachel Cohn first simply because my library has quite a few of her books. Gingerbread is the first in a trilogy so I nabbed that one.

Cyd Charisse has just been kicked out of her prestigious east-coast boarding school and is now back living with her parents in San Francisco. Her mother Nancy is a thin, non-eating type and Sid-dad (stepfather) is a wealthy CEO type. Cyd Charisse is rebelling against everything at the moment – rattling around the house and greater San Francisco causing trouble and acting out. The only things she seems to enjoy are hanging out with Sugar Pie at a nursing home and her boyfriend Shrimp, a surfer of small stature. She also has Gingerbread, a doll her real father Frank bought her the one time they met in her life, an all too brief meeting in an airport.

As kids who haven’t met/had much to do with their real parents, Cyd Charisse idealises Frank and acts out against Nancy and Sid, who she is actually living with, who take care of her. She pushes boundaries simply to see if they notice and it hurts her when they don’t. When they finally do notice and punish her accordingly, all she can do is throw in their faces that hey, she’s already been doing it for quite a while now. So why punish her? It’s a very real teenager thing to do (I may have done it myself once or twice!) and so Nancy and Sid think that it might be best if Cyd Charisse does actually go and spend time time with Frank – 3 weeks. Frank was married when Cyd Charisse was born but his wife died a few years ago and now it seems like he’s finally willing to get to know Cyd Charisse.

Her boyfriend Shrimp tells her that he thinks they should take a bit of a break and so Cyd Charisse, although upset about Shrimp, still heads off to New York with stars in her eyes, dreaming of her reunion with her real father. She’s brought back to Earth with a bit of a thump – Frank isn’t even there to pick her up and also seems reluctant to announce that she’s his daughter. He tells people that she’s his niece (although the two are so similar looks-wise that it seems it would be impossible for Frank to deny paternity) and his god-daughter. He spends hardly any time with Cyd Charisse, other than carefully orchestrated and organised “quality time” which usually is limited to dinner. It is left to Cyd Charisse’s older, gay brother Danny to take her under his wing and show her New York. Cyd Charisse is a lover of coffee and Danny and his partner run a cafe/cake shop so Cyd Charisse starts working some shifts there as a barista. She’s very happy doing that and realises that just might be what she wants out of life. With Shrimp around though, preferably.

In New York Cyd Charisse will finally have to confront and get past the ghost of the event that has changed her life. The thing that has made her act out, crave attention, crave something. She’ll realise that what she did was hard and that she did it all by herself and that she is a stronger person for being the one who could deal with it, the one who had to.

Cyd Charisse is not always a likable protagonist but I loved reading this novel. She’s selfish and she’s wilful and she’s hurting and does silly things and she also spends a lot of time talking to a doll. And I loved her. I felt for her when she told her story and I felt for her that she had no one to really tell it to properly and be there for her at the time. She was funny and smart and although sarcastic and often a bit childish, that was real and believable. I’m sure I was still plenty childish when I was 16-17 and her voice for me is a true one. I would’ve liked to actually see more of Shrimp – we see very little of their relationship and then Shrimp requests a break and Cyd Charisse heads to New York. I assume the second novel (called Shrimp!) is going to be all about her attempt to get back together with him, so I might get a bit more of an idea of what he’s like when I read that. Shrimp wasn’t really important in this novel, he was more a bit of background information on Cyd Charisse in that she makes different relationship choices now. She just needs to learn to make different choices for herself in other areas and New York is the first step to that.

The other characters are skilfully portrayed – Nancy is a strict but also slightly unconventional mother and I very much liked Sid-dad, Cyd Charisse’s tolerant and loving stepfather. Frank was a distant parent, unsure how to go about forging a relationship with his now grown-up daughter and Danny was fun and interesting. Lisbeth, Cyd Charisse’s half-sister was drawn well, having trouble coming to terms with her new teenage sibling but putting on her best game face and making the effort. The subject matter was no where near as light as I first thought just from reading the blurb on the back of the book and the fun surface read successfully explored some darker and more complex topics and issues.

7/10

Book #118 for 2010

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

After reading Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist recently and not falling in love with it, I was still determined to give this one a go. I’d already reserved it from the Library and picked it up the day I dropped Nick & Norah back off. In this novel a 16yo boy named Dash is browsing in his favourite bookstore, Strand, in New York. Just a sidenote – this bookstore sounds like my idea of heaven! While Dash is perusing the shelves, he notices a red moleskin notebook. Intrigued, he takes the notebook down and opens it, finding a cryptic clue that leads him around the store to another section to find another book and another clue and another book and another clue and so on. Intrigued, Dash does what each clue tells him and fills in blanks in the notebooks using words from the books the clues have been directing him to. He decides to play along and when the final instruction is to pick a book and leave a slip with his email address inside to one of the clerks in the store, he decides to be a bit different and give something else. He leaves her a clue of his own.

When Lily picks up the clue from the Strand she is intrigued also that someone decided to play along and from then on, it becomes a game. They set each other tasks around New York, using family members and friends to participate so that they don’t actually meet or learn anything about each others physical appearance for some time. Their interactions take place in the red moleskin notebook and in the clues the leave for each other. Freed from perhaps the constraints of conventional friendship, they both find themselves confessing things to the other – Dash about the last time he ever truly enjoyed a Christmas, and Lily about the only time she experienced a Christmas she didn’t enjoy. They are clearly chalk and cheese: Dash is described more than once as “snarly” and a “hipster wannabe” who is cynical and hates Christmas and all it involves, stemming back to a disastrous Christmas that has now shaped the way he views the holiday. Lily is sheltered and over-protected by her family. She’s a bit socially awkward and doesn’t have many friends but she’s almost childlike in her love of Christmas and animals. She buries her loneliness in caring for other people’s animals as a dogwalker, lavishing affection on animals and longing for one of her own. She’s been told for years by her parents that she can’t have one as she gets too attached. That’s just one example of how Lily’s family treat  her like she’s five years old, and the book is littered with many others. You know they do have at least one thing in common though. Lily deliberately left the notebook next to a book she loved and Dash was browsing the books of an author he loves when he finds it.

It is clear that they are both quite lonely. Lily’s parents have gone away for Christmas for the first time, to Fiji, for their wedding anniversary and even though Lily okayed it, she wanted them to realise that she didn’t actually mean it. Christmas is special to her and she feels abandoned. Her grandpa has gone as well, down to Florida to see his lady friend and that leaves her with her older brother Langston who is happily involved with a new boyfriend. Dash, who has parents that are separated and haven’t spoken to each other in 8 years, tells his father he’s spending Christmas with his mother and vice versa and his parents are both away on holidays with their new partners. The notebook is a distraction for the both of them, a delightful diversion from having to face the holidays alone. Just because they orchestrated it, doesn’t really mean that they wanted it!

This book was the perfect Christmas read. It’s really, really sweet. Dash and Lily are both infinitely lovable but not without flaws. Their interactions are amusing and clever and I spent a lot of the time while I was reading this book trying to decide what sort of things I would do in a similar project as the book of dares and I don’t possess the imagination of either of these authors. It has plenty of humour and the cast of supporting characters (Lily’s relatives, Dash’s friend Boomer) are perfect ways to inject some laughs. I like that their first real life meeting didn’t go perfectly and that they both knew it would’ve been amazingly hard to live up to their expectations after the interactions in the notebook. But they were also willing to accept the fact that the first time was a bit of a disaster and that they should try again – although it takes them a while to get there!

While Nick & Norah didn’t do it for me, this book definitely did. I have heard so many good things about the authors, separately and together and I was a bit disappointed after Nick & Norah as it really didn’t live up to the (probably too high) expectations I had of it. I am happy that this one met my expectations and probably exceeded them, which is always nice. I will probably end up buying a copy of this sometime soon so it can go on my shelf for re-reads. It has great re-read potential!

9/10

Book #110 of 2010

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Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Nick is the only straight guy in a band of gay boys (well ok, there’s only 3 of them, but the other 2 guys are gay) named ‘The Fuck-Offs’. They’ve gone through several name changes with the singer Dev changing them regularly. They don’t have a drummer because Dev broke his heart but they get a few gigs. Nick is the bassist and he’s pining away for Tris, the girl that just dumped him and broke his heart. Mid-gig he spots her in the crowd with another man and is devastated. After the set, he sees her walking towards him, so he turns to a girl beside him in a flannel shirt and asks if she’d mind being his girlfriend for the next 5 minutes so that he doesn’t look like such a loser in front of Tris and so that she isn’t the only one who has moved on.

Norah is the daughter of a very influential and wealthy record label executive and she’s out at the gig looking after her drunk friend Caroline. Caroline needs looking after and Norah is usually only too happy to help. When the bassist from one of the bands leans in and asks if she’d pretend to be his girlfriend, Norah sees Tris, who she knows from school as a sort of ‘frenemy’ approaching from another direction and that makes her decision for her: she pulls the boy in and kisses him, not realising that this is Tris’ ex, just seeing an opportunity to get Tris off her back with her relentless taunts of Norah being frigid.

From there, Norah asks Nick after if he’d mind giving her and an inebriated Caroline a lift home and Nick agrees. However when his car won’t start, the third guy from The Fuck-Offs, Thom (with a H) rolls up with his boyfriend in tow, offers to take Caroline home and gives Norah 50 bucks to take Nick out on the town for the night to help him get over the bitch from hell ex-girlfriend, Tris, who they all loathed. Norah already at least knows something about Nick, as she’s heard the playlists he’s constructed for Tris, and the lyrics he’s composed about her. They have very similar tastes in music and so Norah takes the 50 bucks and her and Nick head into Manhattan. They go to a strip club where the dancers dress as nuns and where some amazingly new and brilliant punk band named Where’s Fluffy? are playing some secret gig. Randomly just about everyone turns up at that secret gig too: Tris and her new boyfriend, Dev, the singer of The Fuck-Offs, band members from the other bands that were playing the same night and venue as The Fuck-Offs, almost what appears to be the whole New York underground music scene. Nick and Norah have several disagreements, hook up several times, air some angst, split up, find each other again and spend one night together in New York that changes everything.

Okay. So this book is one of those hyped YA type things about being real and awesome and I’d heard so many good things about it that I was pretty eager to get hold of it. So I reserved it at the local library and discovered that it’s also on the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge which is a government initiative to get more kids reading where, depending on age, kids are challenged to read a certain number of books per year, including a set amount from the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge List. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is included in the list of books recommended for children in year’s 9&10 (14 and 15yo’s). I looked up the list and it’s very extensive – I don’t remember anything like that when I was in school and if there had’ve been, I certainly would’ve taken part. I went to school in another state and the emphasis on reading seemed to be all about the set texts, which were all very dated with little to no involvement of contemporary novels. And I think this novel would be a good choice for that age group and could draw fans of both sexes.

However, I didn’t particularly enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The point of view alternates per chapter, Nick followed by Norah and a lot of information is rehashed as you hear it from both points of view. This was a bit distracting and not something I enjoyed. Nick seemed like an interesting sort of character, and it was a fresh take on boys from YA fiction to have  him quite devastated over his break up with Tris and the one who was pining. Norah I found more difficult to like, she was prickly and uptight at times and then relaxed and open at other times and it was a confusing combination. I disliked the use of the word ‘frigid’ in this novel – it’s overused and mostly inaccurate. Norah thinks she’s frigid and is taunted as such but what she really is is uneducated and belittled by the boy/man she was involved with. Frigid is a common schoolyard taunt here, particularly in grades 7-10 where students are getting into their first relationships and any reluctance to immediately throw yourself headlong into a sexual affair leads to a lot of ‘frigid’ comments. It annoys me, and has always annoyed me and reading it in this novel was really no different. The gratuitous scene at the end with Tris and Norah to ‘prove’ that she is not frigid seems little more to me than a thinly veiled attempt to please male readers of this novel, even though that section was written by the female author (Cohn writes Norah’s chapters, Levithan write’s Nick’s).

It’s also paragraphs like this that turned me off:

I mean, there only the best punk band out there right now, named for the fucking apathy of a xenophobic fucking nation, oblivious to the fucking terror its leaders wreak on the rest of the world because they’re too busy worrying if their cat might be stuck up a tree. Where’s Fluffy can actually play, instead of wail like fucking pop-punk goof-offs. They sing everything right about everything wrong -they’ll come on pro-NRA, anti-chioce, homophobic – to remind listeners what’s worth fighting for. Where’s Fluffy are the real deal and if there’s anything between me and Nick, it will be determined when the show starts…..

What? I can’t tell if Norah is supposed to be serious or if she’s being tongue-in-cheek and mocking the sort of pretentious hardcore punk fan that always thinks the new band is the freshest, most original thing ever because they say some controversial things and trash a few hotel rooms and murder their wives and refuse to sell out to the man, until they do.

While the posturing like the paragraph above bothered me, what I did enjoy was the genuine chemistry between Nick and Norah. When they were really talking, I liked them. There’s a movie of this floating around that I would like to see and even though this book didn’t particularly do it for me, I’d like to read more of the two author’s efforts. There’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares and Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List and I’d like to give both of them ago and see if I like a story set away from this niche music scene, or if the author’s style of writing is just not for me. I seem to be in the minority with my opinion on this book as I’ve read mostly overwhelmingly positive reviews about it pretty much everywhere and very little in the way of negativity.

6/10

Book #107 of 2010

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