Book Review: Dare Me by Megan Abbott

There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.

Here is the publisher’s description:

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.

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

I’m still not entirely sure what to think about Dare Me. On the one hand, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read, and in a good way. I read reviews that called it “Bring it On meets Macbeth” and “Heathers meets Fight Club,” and thought ‘well that sounds amazing’ and immediately added it to my library queue. Those comparisons are certainly accurate. There were parts that made me roll my eyes and think ‘this is so unrealistic,’ and I had to remind myself that it was intentionally written to be stylized and overwrought. The writing is beautiful, but sometimes reminded me of thoughts I’ve had after a few glasses of wine. Everything that happened to and around these girls was just heavy.

On the other hand, I find it hard to connect to a piece of fiction if I can’t relate to at least one character, and I think that contributed to the ambiguity I felt throughout this book. There is not one relatable character in the bunch. Beth is domineering and cruel. Coach is an immature ice queen. Even the narrator, Addy, is an unsentimental, cold bitch. She and the other girls on the squad seem to be suffering, but it’s never clear exactly why or from what. These are not angst-ridden teenagers, these are girls who exhibit the world-weariness of women three times their age. There’s little in the way of exposition, and the tidbit from their past that is eventually revealed made me sympathize with Beth, who is easily the least sympathetic character throughout the entire story.

Overall, I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this book. I think it’s an intriguing, beautifully-written read, and worth picking up. It’s just missing the heart of my usual fare and left me a little cold.

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