Dare Me: A Novel

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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.

‘Dare Me,’ by Megan Abbott - The New York Times

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 more I did it—the more it owned me. It made things matter. It put a spine into my spineless life and that spine spread, into backbone, ribs, collarbone, neck held high. It was something. And Coach gave it all to us. We never had it before her. So can you blame me for wanting to keep it? Did I ever feel anything at all until she showed me what feeling meant? There I am, Addy Hanlon, sixteen years old, hair like a long taffy pull and skin tight as a rubber band.

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Look at how my eyes shutter open and close, like everything is just too much to take in. I was never one of those mask-faced teenagers, gum lodged in mouth corner, eyes rolling and long sighs.

I was never that girl at all. But I knew those girls.

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And, when she came, I watched all their masks peel away. The yearning so deep, like pinions on our hearts.


Dare Me - review - Megan Abbott

Naturally, feminists will have much to chew on with Dare Me , which additionally details the preparation, mental and physical, for a big rally at a game where cheerleading scouts are to show up, and have the potential to promote these girls to the next level. Scars are a weapon here, not some kind of adornment or decorative beauty mark.

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It's a bonding symbol of sisterhood, and the punishment these girls take is ritualized. This book is set over the course of a few months of high school, but the kind of interaction these characters have — such as how Addy seemingly bonds with her coach — would have been much more believable had it progressed over a number of years. And, as such, the revenge that Beth takes over her demotion on the cheer squad becomes almost a laughable parody, although the obliviousness of the lives she sets out to ruin is conversely a very believable aspect.

That all said, Dare Me is still engaging for offering a role reversal in gender relations. Men are the objects of desire here, even if they are largely portrayed as goofs or, worse yet, rapists, potential or otherwise. Most days, he seems to be some other place entirely, some place in which girls like us have no place at all.

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Dare is also a portrait of a subset of young girls who work hard and party harder: their lives are full of drunken underage debauchery that nobody in the adult world blinks an eyelash at. Naturally, the new coach attempts to purify the bodies of these young girls, but eventually falls prey to the wayward nature of such vice herself, as her home eventually becomes the host of such parties.

This is the natural chink in the armor of these women, though the book only really uses this as a means of setting up various plot devices and not really exploring in depth the price these women pay for abusing their bodies on the gym floor to the point where they would want to medicate themselves. Still, Dare Me is a fascinating book despite its warts, as it shows the changes that are happening to young women at this point in time: a heady zone where they might feel that they have to act like men in order to obtain any sort of power in their relationships. How would you know what to do?

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