My cold, cold heart
I’ve been puzzling over an apt way to begin this review of Megan Abbott’s fantastic new thriller Dare Me. How to term what one reviewer has called The Great American Cheerleading Novel? Megan Abbott does for cheerleaders what Stephen King did for clowns? The dark secret lives of cheerleaders as seen through the lens of David Lynch?
One word that would be entirely apt is fierce. Frenemies Addy and Beth are intense, whipping their squad of girls into a tight company that shows no mercy to anyone that fails. But the precarious balance is upset with the arrival of new coach Colette French. Casting a critical eye over the squad, Coach quickly begins a power struggle with Beth, while introducing Addy to the turbulent world of adult problems. Caught between the scheming of Beth and the manipulations of Coach, Addy must face a harsh reality when someone close to Coach is found dead, an apparent suicide. Addy is too close to Coach to take that explanation as truth, but Beth’s relentless pressure to pin the blame on Coach indicates manipulations that Addy is all too familiar with—and suggests she knows more than she’s letting on.
What makes Dare Me work so well is Abbott’s combination of noir style and the dark uncertainty of teenage girls, right on the cusp of adulthood. The girls here are cruel and loyal, dedicated to sending that top girl flying high as an eagle, ruthlessly hoping for her downfall even as they catch her. Armored in tan body spray, ponytails pulled unmercifully tight, they are martial in their dedication and scary when crossed. Abbott’s short, cutting sentences match the sharp texts and Facebook status updates that the squad members live by; Addy witnesses a girl making out with a boy in a hallway, the girl “practicing the telling of the moment even as the moment slips from her.” But above all, Abbott has mastered the noirish sense of language. Even though I’m sure that some of the scenes in the book took place in the blinding sunlight of football fields, there is a dark cast to every scene. Scary and thrilling, Dare Me is hard to put down even as the characters become more desperate, the terse darkness accelerating as the story spirals to its thrilling end.