Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Publisher: Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)/July 31st, 2012
Kind thanks to Reagan Arthur books for providing a review copy
Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.
Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth,unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself.
Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain.
I was never a cheerleader in high school. In fact, I was never really part of any clique. But as far as I knew, all of our cheerleaders were smart, talented girls that worked hard at just about everything they did, and yeah, in a lot of ways, probably ruled the school. Either way, I don’t remember them being like the girls in Dare Me, although knowing them that well would have required much more familiarity. Let’s just say I hope they weren’t anything like these girls. Tall, beautiful Addy is a cheerleader, along with her best friend Beth Cassidy, and they absolutely rule the school. Tearing down teachers, tormenting coaches and fellow classmates is all in a day’s work for these girls, until Coach French comes along. Until now, the squad was soft and undisciplined. No more butt shaking and hip thrusting for these girls, no sir. Coach French is gonna whip them into shape, you’d better believe it. Colette French is tiny, commanding, and beautiful, and Addy’s fascination with her is evident from the start. Soon, Coach French invites the girls over to her perfect house, which contains her perfect daughter, and doting husband. Things aren’t quite as perfect as they seem at Casa French though, and that soon becomes evident, when an explosive event introduces the first cracks in the fragile veneer built around Coach French and her girls.
Ohhhh, Megan Abbott. How dare you suck me into this diabolical narrative about cheerleaders and their mean, brittle little hearts, causing loss of sleep and possibly heart palpitations! Dare Me is, at first blush, Addy’s story. After all, she’s the one telling it, and for a while, at least, she keeps the reader at arm’s length. We learn quite a bit about Beth, the little Napolean, with her narrowed eyes, casual cruelty, and fondness for games of the psychological sort. We think we get to know Coach, but of course, things are never quite as they seem. There’s a quiet desperation about Addy, and she’s always been Beth’s lieutenant and, seemingly, at her beck and call. Beth is presented (very effectively) as a bitchy, bored, innately cruel teenager with a chip on her shoulder, and she’s pretty easy to hate. Her calculation is startling and hurting others seems like sport, so the author’s ability to slowly morph her into a tragic figure (and she is), is pretty impressive. There’s a mystery here, to be sure, but Dare Me is, at its core, a study of the bonds of friendship, obsessive love, and the lengths some will go to in order to hold onto that love and possess a person fully. Dare Me is described as a sort of Fight Club for cheerleaders, and it is. These girls wear their physical bruises like badges, with their “cherried smiles and spray-tanned legs”, and drive their bodies to exhaustion and beyond, striving for constant perfection, admiration, and of course, acceptance. When the final revelations come, about Beth, Addy, Coach French, and the death that wraps them so tightly together, you’ll be a bit exhausted, but in the best way, in the way only a good mystery can do. And Megan Abbott is good, folks. Her staccato, spitfire prose grabs you from page one and doesn’t let go until the very last page. I dare you not to finish it in one sitting. Highly recommended.
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