PUBLICATION DATE: July 31, 2012
n Dare Me, Megan Abbott, the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels, exposes the fight club mentality of a group of high school cheerleaders.
Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy have grown up together. They have been best friends, although it’s clear that Beth is in charge and Addy is merely her right hand. At one point, Addy compares an event to “… years ago, eighth grade, and my dad, who no longer bothers, watching me as I left the house with Beth, our bodies suddenly so ripe and comely and there was nothing they could do.”
A large part of the girls’ focus in high school has been on cheerleading. Now that they’re seniors, the other cheerleaders both fear and follow them.
The new cheerleading coach just might change everything. Coach French is attractive, like the girls, but she’s an adult and married. They aren’t sure what to make of her.
Addy wonders “Did she look at us that first week and see past the glossed hair and the shiny legs, our glittered brow bones and girl bravado? See past all that to everything beneath, all our miseries, the way we all hated ourselves but much more everyone else? Could she see past all of that to something else, something quivering and real, something poised to be transformed, turned out, made? See that she could make us, stick her hands in our glitter-gritted insides and build us into magnificent teen gladiators?”
Coach French slowly draws the cheerleaders into her life, while at the same time imposing strict standards on the squad and forcing them to become tougher and more athletic. Beth becomes jealous of the time that Addy spends with Coach French, especially when Beth is removed as squad captain.
Meanwhile, the girls find out that their coach has a dangerous secret and a suspicious suicide brings the police knocking on their doors. Addy begins to ask herself “How far is too far to go for someone you love?”
I think Dare Me is well-written, although the writing style may not appeal to everyone and at times it can feel repetitive. For example, in the first couple of chapters, we read over and over again about how the cheerleaders perceive themselves and how they are viewed within the school as a whole.
Overall, the book is a compelling look at loyalty and an authentic view into the world of high school cheerleaders that feels almost voyeuristic. Abbott definitely knows the ins and outs of teenage girls—what makes them tick and what they are really thinking about. I enjoyed reading about how the girls bond with each other, especially in response to the toughness imposed by Coach French. The story is suspenseful and the conclusion of the book is both memorable and satisfying.
The character of Beth is so self-absorbed, disrespectful, and lacking in empathy that I found it difficult at times to keep reading. Still, Abbott’s writing style pulled me in and I enjoyed the suspense that she created on almost every page.
Some readers may be bothered by the drinking, sex, and similar activities. These girls are pretty wild, and their parents, for the most part, are nowhere to be found.
Dare Me is a dark story so if you’re looking for something light and fun, this isn’t it. I recommend it if you like dark psychological thrillers and especially if you are intrigued by the world of high school cheerleading.