Dare Me ★★★★
Reagan Arthur Books, 2012
I’ve read gobs of creepy books and watched heaps of horror movies, but nothing can run a spike of scare through me quite like a gaggle of teen girls. You knew these things already, didn’t you? Or at least suspected — the vicious, petty jealousies, the unchecked hormones, the cutting intelligence harnessed to manipulate and intimidate, the capricious cruelty, the fathomless insecurities, the abiding self-loathing … need I go on?
Teen girls are a tribe unto themselves, with their own language, dress code, rules of behavior, and very specific rites of passage. Every day is Lord of the Flies day for teen girls. They don’t need no stinking island to channel their inner savage, alright? Stephen King knew this when he has Carrie White cornered and bleeding from her first menses in the girl’s high school locker room while her classmates pelt her with sanitary napkins and tampons chanting: “Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!”
In Dare Me, Megan Abbott takes you deep into teen girl territory, so deep you will flinch, and grimace and squirm at all the things she’s going to show you. It’s a sordid voyeurism that will have you screaming for more. This isn’t a darkly humorous satire à la Mean Girls or Heathers. Not at all. This is a sober, penetrating look at the inner lives of a group of cheerleaders — their insular, isolated existence as members of a tribe within a tribe. Their rituals include starvation diets and brute, physical demands requiring near constant pain and risk of serious injury.
Into a volatile balance of power comes new Head Coach Collette French. Loyalties shift, boundaries are tested, trusts will be broken and amidst all the angst and perpetual drama, a body will be discovered. For Ms. Abbott isn’t just writing cheerleaders, she’s writing noir cheerleaders, with a rich cast of characters each vying for the role of femme fatale.
This is a story icky in parts dealing as it does in burgeoning, pubescent sexuality, obsessions and desires. For all of that it is bloody fascinating featuring an engaging plot that Abbott has exquisitely paced. I read this in one sitting. I was violently pulled into this world and held captive the entire time. This isn’t a happy story. You’ve been warned. Also, DO NOT make the mistake of assuming that because she is writing about teen girls, that Megan Abbott is writing Young Adult fiction. Her stories are very much Adult fiction written for adults, in themes, language and execution.
Related post: Megan Abbott knocks the wind out of me