REVIEW: DARE ME by Megan Abbott

From the Publisher, Reagan Arthur Books:

“Beth and me wedged tight, jeaned legs pressed against each other. The sound of our own breathing. Before we all stopped believing a tornado, or anything, could touch us, ever. Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy are tough, inseparable, invincible. No pair more charismatic or sophisticated. No pair more dangerous. But with the fall term, their new coach arrives and things begin to change. She has plans for the cheer squad: all sleek poise and cool command, the girls are soon entirely in her thrall. Faster, harder, higher, thinner, the stakes raised, their world contracting, they compete to risk – everything. She, meantime, has been crossing a line of her own. From the brilliant author of “The End of Everything“, “Dare Me” is a searing novel about the allure of adulthood and the dark heart of adolescence: the fierce bonds between girls, their bitter rivalries, and their power to transform one another.”

This is one disturbing book.  It’s a book that starts out with a scene that lets you know something has gone horribly wrong, you’re just not sure what.  So you have that weight on your shoulders as you read.  And as Abbott writes, on page 5, “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.”  These high school cheerleaders – the way the talk, the things they talk about and the things they do – are simply disturbing in and of themselves.  As a mother of two tween girls, the book kind of freaked me out.  I kept thinking, is this realistic at all?  Are there squads of girls out there who are so casually cruel in they way they binge and purge, take drugs and drink, seduce grown men, and generally scheme and manipulate everyone around them, mostly via the effortless and ubiquitous text?  And where the %#$& are the parents!?
Although reading Dare Me was a pretty uncomfortable experience, the writing is so compelling that I couldn’t stop.  The characterizations are so craftily layered that it’s very difficult to predict who it is that is responsible for the bad things that happen (and they just keep happening.)  The use of language is gorgeous.  Though the teen-speak and cheer terminology lost me at times, the intent is clear enough and the images evoked throughout are moving and striking.  I marked little passage after passage, images that evoke all the crazy things these girls are feeling and creating.  Just a few samples follow:
On the Queen Bee, Beth:

“…Beth with her clenched jaw, about to unsnap.  It reminds me of something I learned once in biology:  a crocodile’s teeth are constantly replaced.  Their whole life, they never stop growing new teeth.
I get up, I follow.”  (p 72)

On the New Coach:

“She is in that focus mode where she doesn’t even look me in the eye but treats my body like a new machine with parts not yet broken in.  Which is what it is.”  (p. 78)

On those screens:

“You can’t erase it all, not even half of it.  Half my life surrendered to gray screens the size of my thumbnail, each flare carelessly shot from my phone to another now rocketing back, landing in my lap like a cartoon bomb, its wick lit.”  (p.160)

And don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a story about cheerleaders.  While the crazed competition and seeking of bodily perfection among these girls may sit perfectly in that world, it’s about so much more.  About a fight to the death over who has your heart, with one surprising battle outcome after another.  I highly recommend this book, just be forewarned that it’s a ride, and not a gentle one.
For more on Dare Me, check out reviews at Devourer of Books as well as Linus’ Blanket. And there’s a post at Linus’ Blanket with a video of a cheer squad that brings the book to scary life for me!   Audiofile Magazine has a review of the audiobook, narrated by the fabulous Khristine Hvam.

5 thoughts on “REVIEW: DARE ME by Megan Abbott”

  1. I have got to read this!!! Thanks for the review.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    Abbott’s last book was the same way – uncomfortable yet compelling. I can’t wait to read this.

    1. kewhite says:

      The End of Everything? Gonna have to read that one, too. But I may have to recover from this one first!

      1. Nicole says:

        I second what Kathy has to say about THE END OF EVERYTHING. Absolutely compelling and disturbing.

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