Beth Cassidy is the best friend of Addy Hanlon, undisputed Queen of the cheer-leading team. When a new coach arrives, one who is determined to push the team to their limits, tough, power-hungry Addy feels like her superiority is being challenged. But Coach isn't one to back down and Beth soon finds herself caught in the middle of a power-play between Addy and Coach, in which Addy will stop at nothing to be the victor. As the girls on the team push themselves to be faster, harder and thinner, Beth has to decide what the right thing to do is, and whether she herself wants to play Addy's games.
I picked up Dare Me because I remember seeing positive reviews of it on other blogs, and knew that it would be much darker than a book about a group of teenage cheerleaders might appear to be. And indeed it was. Everything about it, from the writing style to the plot and characters was the very opposite of a cheesy teenage novel. The girls in Dare Me are tough and determined, uncaring about who they hurt and unthinking of the consequences of their actions. Addy was once their Queen Bee but then Coach takes that role and the girls starve themselves, binge drink, force themselves to be sick and even make out with boys based on the Coach's wishes. Dare Me is all about the power dynamics in groups of teenage girls and it is truly unflinching in the way that it portrays them.
Dare Me is full of twists and turns and most of them were genuinely surprising. I had guessed the ending of the novel, the reason Addy had such power over Beth, but I was in the dark about the central mystery of the novel involving a police investigation (I won't say any more as I don't want to spoil anyone). Beth's characterisation was very subtle, she came across as a victim of Addy and then the Coach's manipulations initially, but as the novel progressed we got to see another side of her.
Megan Abbott's writing in Dare Me is very distinctive. Like her characters, it pulls no punches with it's long sentences full of vivid description;
"I'd forgotten what throwing up could be like, the kind where you're not, Emily-style, nuzzling your finger down your fish-tailing throat, begging for release from the dreaded sluice of cupcakes or from the acidic sludge of too many Stoli Citronas - cheer beer, they call it, we call it.No, this is throwing up like coming off the tilt-a-whirl at age seven, like discovering that dead rat under the porch, like finding out someone you loved never loved you at all."
You see what I mean? I was very impressed with the writing, which seemed to sum up the mindset of the characters so perfectly. It's a while since I've read a book with such blunt writing and I'm definitely going to be looking out for more books by Abbott. The only criticisms I would make of this book is that the final resolution seemed a bit contrived (to me), but apart from that I loved it and read it in pretty much one sitting. Recommended for anyone who likes darker novels full of twists and turns.
First Published: 2012
Edition Read: Pan Macmillan, 2012
Score: 4 out of 5
- The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - I read this pre-blogging and it's one of my favourites. Eugenides also examines the darker side of adolescence and although his writing is more dreamy, Abbott's descriptions reminded me of Eugenides in some places.
- The People of Forever are not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu - This book was long-listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2013 and follows three female conscripts to the Israeli army. The blunt writing style and unflinching look at relationships make this a good companion read to Dare Me.