Dare Me, the latest novel by author Megan Abbott, has already gained attention, award nominations and a potential feature film contract, despite being released less than 12 months ago. Big shoes (pages? spine?) to fill, which is always an interesting way to start a book.
Dare Me is told from the perspective of high school cheerleader Addy Hanlon after her squad is turned upside down by the arrival of the new Coach. Though most of the cheerleaders flourish and grow under the mesmerising, mysterious and beautiful Coach French, there’s one exception: Beth Cassidy, former Cheer Captain and best friend to Addy.
Although Beth is beautiful, she’s also trouble and controlling, with a firm hold on the squad, who are constantly captivated by her words and actions, no matter how nefarious her true intentions are. Despite the tumultuous friendship that she and Addy have, their relationship is complex and at times unnerving, and although Addy tells herself otherwise, she is continually manipulated by Beth.
However, their friendship begins to crack, with Beth becoming increasingly jealous, when Addy and Coach French become closer to one another. Adding fuel to the fire, Addy becomes witness to a crime, with both Coach French and Beth holding important clues that could break or make each of their friendships.
For me, this book held a lot of potential. Although, thankfully, I have left the world of high school, and overall had an excellent group of girlfriends, there’s still something sinister and very interesting about the dynamic of high school girls and the friendships that they have between them. Every girl who has been through high school probably knows what I mean. Encouraging each other to do things just a little bit wicked, talking behind one another’s backs over complete non-issues (that in turn become issues after all the gossiping occurring behind one’s back) and believing that it’s the end of the world if we’re excluded, or cease to fit in.
So, as a result, I was interested in how Abbott would portray these complex relationships, particularly the weird friendship-triangle between Addy, Beth and Coach French. Not to mention the amount of peer pressure and pseudo-friendships that must occur within a high school cheerleading squad. Unfortunately, Dare Me, wasn’t what I expected or hoped for.
The biggest problem that I had with this novel was that I couldn’t believe in the friendship between Beth and Addy. While there are always female friendships that are complex and confusing to the outsider, there is still a strong link that allows the friendship to continue. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t find a single reason why Beth and Addy were still best friends, aside from the idea that Addy was so terrified of Beth and her actions that she just went along with it.
To me, Beth was awful. There were perhaps two or there occasions where her supposed ‘true personality’ shone out and she acted like a true friend, but otherwise her actions were poisonous, as she calculated her every mood to trap Addy. And while she is considered the loose cannon of the novel, I just kept wondering why the squad just stopped putting up with her ridiculous behaviour and tell her to shove it.
On the other hand, I understood why Addy became so enchanted by the idea of Coach. An older woman who is beautiful and apparently in complete control, it’s a friendship that at that age most girls aspire to. And as a result, I found it completely plausible that Addy is uncertain who to side with when things get a tad…messy.
Secondly, I was disappointed by both the pacing of the novel and the twists and plots that unfolded. When I began reading, I was intrigued and I couldn’t get enough of it. And while it ended strongly, I had at that point become disinterested. Furthermore, while I expected a twist, when it came I was let down; surely the author was gearing up for something more? The result was that I became somewhat ambivalent and apathetic about the characters and their eventual outcome.
Overall, Dare Me is a well-written and interesting novel that is enjoyable and very easy-to-read. However, if you’re after something a bit more in-depth, original or insightful, then I would suggest giving this one a miss.
Have you read Dare Me or anything by Megan Abbott? Let me know!