Megan Abbott’s Dare Me examines the lives of cheerleaders through high school juniors and best friends Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy. Beth has always been the top cheerleader and her friend, Addy, her lieutenant. The girls’ relationship has been strained in recent months and undergoes further changes when they get a young, new coach at the beginning of the year. Coach French undermines Beth’s iron grip on the squad, dividing loyalties when she decommissions Beth as the team’s captain. Even as they all give Coach French their complete allegiance, Addie knows how dangerous a scorned Beth can be. For Beth, it’s war – and when a suspicious death connects back to the coach, it’s on.
My introduction to Megan Abbott came last year when my book club read The End of Everything. Her disturbing, yet compelling portrayal of the friendship of teenage girls (and what happens when one of them goes missing) gave my book club plenty to buzz about. She is no less astute in her observations here as she details the girls’ tenuous relationships with each other, forged as they are in weight loss, peer pressure, and brutal competition. Abbott never shies away from the dark undercurrent running just beneath the surface of intense friendships, and Beth and Addy’s relationship is rife with the deepest love and support as well jealousy, hurt and manipulation.
The relationships between adults and teenagers in Abbott novels are refreshing and infuriating, filled as they are with nuanced complexities, and a frankly questionable nature. Both Beth and Addy’s parents are typically absentee in their daughter’s lives and while the coach seeks to control the team from a leadership standpoint, she is a flawed substitute instead of an improvement over mean girl, Beth. She masterfully manipulates the girls to satisfy her own needs and loneliness. The girls are attracted to Colette French not only because she is young and beautiful, but too, they can sense that she is a match to their emotional existences – as vulnerable and damaged as they are.
Dare Me is written in a voice that is staccato and flitting – sometimes repetitive. It took some getting used to, but it always seemed perfectly suited to these girls who had to be so focused on their cheer routines, but at the same time had so much to pay attention to, and be distracted by – their weight, text messages, parties and shifting allegiances. Once again Megan Abbott has written a novel about friendship, loyalty and love containing a compelling plot that is equally thoughtful and engaging. Recommended.