Dare Me

Dare Me unfolds like a painstakingly psychological game of chess set against the backdrop of female adolescence as Addy Hanlon, Beth Cassidy and their new cheer coach, Colette French intertwine in devastating ways.

The book is a brutal exploration of power, obsession and more than anything, friendship. Beth and Addy are childhood friends, Beth leads, Addy follows and the pair are top dogs on their cheerleading team. A new coach arrives in the shape of Colette French who, in short, upsets things. Beth’s position as top dog is under threat, while Addy is enamoured with her new coach which, in turn, fractures her friendship with Beth. The book details the relentless world of cheerleading along the way, until one night Addy’s world is turned upside down and a new dark game commences…

Love-hate. That’s the best way to summarise my relationship with Megan Abbott’s mystery.

Love-hate. That’s the best way to summarise my relationship with Megan Abbott’s mystery. I think that stems from the writing style which is like nothing I’ve read before. There were passages where I found it sharp and incisive, laden with crisp, engaging descriptions that paint vivid pictures, yet there were others where I found it too much and grating to the extent where it took me out of the story.

However, there wasn’t a moment where I couldn’t appreciate it for what it I was. It’s a style that’s hard to take to, almost a hybrid of stage directions in a script, a typical narrative voice in a novel and simply, someone’s chain of thought. It’s exhausting and it is undoubtedly difficult to take to. As you read further, there are passages which practically purr as the writing style hits the high notes but, as I said, there are others which falter and can distract you from the story completely.

As for the story, it’s undoubtedly a slow burn and if you’re not in-the-know when it comes to cheerleading, the gaggles of jargon and arguably the whole environment can bog down the story somewhat. I could perhaps relate when it came to my experiences of junior varsity football with our tournaments in Munich and Budapest – though I was unable to attend the latter due to swine flu – but nonetheless, when Addy marvels at the wonder of the things they’re doing it was, at times, hard to relate to.

It’s the psychology of the characters that I found most compelling…

It was the psychology of the characters that I found most compelling, especially upon reaching the end of the novel in which the end game is revealed and made me appreciate it all the more. Addy’s mind is a maze of which we’re thrown into to navigate the story as she questions her relationships with Coach and Beth, and as she learns about who she really is as the story progresses.

Coach has her moments but Beth is the meat and bones of which you could write an essay on. The girl is formidable. She’s cruel. She’s manipulative. She’s unforgiving. She’s not really all that likeable in truth, but she’s fascinating to read as a character. We’re privy to the relationships between Beth and Addy, Addy and Coach but the third – Beth and Coach – we only get in glimmers which adds layers to the mystery after an ambiguous death, which we’re shown in what I suppose is a flashforward right as the novel begins.

Dare Me pulls no punches as it presents the politics of teenage girls. Abbott is ruthless and relentless as she explores what makes her characters tick, mustering up an exhausting read. There are blemishes along the way. It’s not perfect and occasionally it falters, the story itself is a slow burn and arguably feels secondary to the psychology of the characters.

I can’t say it was my cup of tea, but there’s certainly a lot to appreciate about Dare Me (I did not mean for that to rhyme).


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