There has been a great deal of buzz surrounding DARE ME, Megan Abbott’s latest novel. Other authors working in a number of genres have been responsible for a great deal of it, which is almost always an excellent indicator that the excitement is justified. That, indeed, is the case here. This is one of the most quietly chilling and compelling books that you will read this year.
"This is one of the most quietly chilling and compelling books that you will read this year.... Abbott peels back the seething drama that lies beneath the glitter and the smiles under the Friday night lights, and it’s anything but pretty. It sure makes for compulsive reading, though."
DARE ME is told in the first person, present tense voice of Addy Hanlon, a high school senior who is a member of the varsity cheerleading squad. For years she has been the wing girl of Beth Cassidy, her best friend, though that relationship has not been without its bumps and frayed edges, not the least of which occurred during the previous summer. An incident that is only gradually revealed over the course of the book has weakened but not torn the bond between them; it is sorely tested, though, when a new cheerleading coach arrives.
Colette French is only a decade or so older than her charges, yet light years beyond them. While she is a hard taskmaster, she also offers them a glimpse --- and tentative access --- into the cusp of the adult world that they seek and desire but lack the wherewithal with which to deal. French draws the squad in general and Addy in particular into her circle, resulting in a vicious struggle between two queen bees that is not as one-sided as it might seem at first blush. Beth is determined to regain her influence over the squad, especially as it pertains to Addy, and she will stop at nothing to do it.
When an apparent suicide occurs, Addy and Colette are --- by manipulated circumstance and necessity --- drawn even closer together, which is both a crisis and an opportunity for Beth. But it also places Addy in the middle of a situation with which she is ill-prepared to deal, even as the pressures mount on the cheerleading squad to perform at a near-impossible peak. By the time the book concludes, everything is different yet nothing has changed. Not really.
DARE ME begins as a drama, but by mid-story takes a left turn; actually, it’s more like a sudden yank across four lanes at rush hour, into a mystery that will leave you wondering who did what to who. Or maybe nobody did anything to anyone. You have to keep reading to find out. And while the mystery is important, the real meat of the book is the account of the power that these young women possess and the outward ease with which they yield it, even as they are inwardly ill-prepared to do so. Think of a toddler walking outside with a loaded pistol who has just discovered what that hook called a trigger can do. Feel the hairs raise up on your neck? That’s the feeling you get when you read DARE ME. And parental guidance? It is non-existent to hapless, a state of affairs that allows both Beth and Colette to do what they do.
Abbott peels back the seething drama that lies beneath the glitter and the smiles under the Friday night lights, and it’s anything but pretty. It sure makes for compulsive reading, though.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 2, 2012