Abbott sticks the landing and delivers a perfect 10

You Will Know Me ★★★★★
Megan Abbott
Little Brown, 2016

 

“Take my hand when I falter, for I cannot make this journey alone. I do not know you, but you will know me.”
~Nadia Comaneci, Letters to a Young Gymnast

youwillknowmeIf, like me, you’ve lived a life of inexplicable obsession fascination with the world of competitive gymnastics, this latest by the Mighty Megan Abbott is going to rock your world. If you’ve never given competitive gymnastics a single thought what is wrong with you — this book is going to rock your world anyway.

In recent years, Abbott has taken the domestic thriller, suburban noir and made it her bitch. She’s often writing about the interior lives of adolescent girls because she’s proven time and again what deep, murky waters run there, what unsettling truths there are to be found when innocence is lost and a sexual awakening is found.

You Will Know Me is more focused on the family unit this time, though its teen protagonist — 15 year old Devon Knox — certainly plays a major role. Devon’s compulsive, all-consuming journey to be the best, to be a champion, has also consumed her family — mom Katie, dad Eric, and little brother Drew (who just about broke my heart). Most of the book unfolds from Katie’s viewpoint as she strives to be the perfect support and anchor for her prodigy daughter, while keeping the domestic front of chores, groceries, wifely duties and a freelance job on track. Katie also has a quiet, patient, introverted little boy to nurture who sees much but says very little.

nadia2

Nadia Comaneci, 1976 Olympics

Down into the rabbit hole of competitive gymnastics Abbott takes us, the sacrifices required of a family to raise an Olympic competitor, because the young female gymnast could never get there on her own. But Devon’s quest to reach Olympic level competition will be threatened by the tragic death of a handsome young man, a death that comes like a nuclear bomb dropped into the middle of a perfectly, rigidly balanced life of discipline and routine. The Knox family are left reeling, seeking answers, and fearing truths. Secrets will out, and in the light of day they will come to realize that those we often feel we know the best, we don’t really know at all.

This is a twisty book, and Abbott has a few surprises up her sleeve, but not of the Gone Girl variety — that’s not what she’s up to here. I figured it all out several times, and knew where she was headed, but that in no way diminished from the sense of tension and inexorable suspense. If anything, knowing amped it all to eleven. As readers we’re watching the train leave the tracks in slow motion as the main characters move closer to unbearable discovery. And I felt the point wasn’t really figuring out what happened, the point becomes what characters do now that they know.

Abbott is at the top of her game here — I had no hesitation awarding all five stars. This one you will not want to miss.

Recently, Abbott wrote an article for Elle in which she attempts to answer: “Why Are We So Obsessed With Gymnasts?” As a companion piece to this book, it’s worth checking out.

“Because now, of course, these gymnasts are girls but also, and foremost, powerful and blazingly talented women. Perhaps that is the paradox that keeps us rapt. Biles, four feet nine inches tall, in a pink, crystal-studded leotard and with that cherubic face, radiates girl. And yet the instant she takes glorious flight, she is beyond reckoning, defying gravity, logic, reason.
~Megan Abbott, “Why We are So Obsessed With Gymnasts”

You give me fever

The Fever: A Novel ★ ★ ★ ★
Megan Abbott
Little, Brown & Co.
Expected Publication: June 2014

 

the feverNow you’ve listened to my story, here’s the point I have made: Chicks were born to give you fever, be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade

They give you fever – when you kiss them, fever if you live and learn: Fever – till you sizzle, what a lovely way to burn.
“Fever”, Cooley/Davenport

***

Sexual debut. Sometimes it seemed to Deenie that high school was like a long game of And Then There Were None. Every Monday, another girl’s debut.
The Fever, Megan Abbott

Nobody (and I mean nobody) writes the dark and secretive interiors of a teenage girl’s psyche better than Megan Abbott. But make no mistake: while she is writing about teenagers, she is not writing Young Adult. Her books are so far removed from YA Lit it’s not only a different country, but another planet. So if you haven’t had the shocking and titillating pleasure to read her yet and have Ms. Abbott shelved as Young Adult, get her off there post-haste please — asap — I mean immediately.

Seriously, do it.

Go on.

I’ll wait for you.

One of the things I’ve come to love about Abbott the most is that even when I think I’ve figured out how the story is going to go, she always manages to surprise me. And she never cheats. Here, she not only surprised me, she creeped the hell out of me, something I wasn’t expecting at all. The Fever isn’t a horror story, but Jesus damn, there are aspects of the story that are extremely unsettling and creeeeepy. I was reading this into the wee hours of the morning last night, and got to this one part and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention:

She started clearing her throat, and once she started it was like she couldn’t stop. “But most of all it’s here,” she said, clawing at her neck. “It feels like there’s something in my throat. And it’s getting bigger.”

::shiver::

megan abbott

Megan Abbott

I’ve been fangirling for Megan Abbott for awhile now, but with this she’s made me her slave. And she’s so pixie-cute petite you can fit her in your pocket. Looking at her mischievous, Mona Lisa smile you’d never expect her to so eloquently and ruthlessly explore the twisted, perilous, coming-of-age waters of teenage girls, waters that run black and deep. There are monsters that swim in that water, monsters that bite, scar and maim for life.

My only sadness and regret is that I’m finished, and this book isn’t even coming out until June, which means I’ve got a bit of a wait before I get my next Megan Abbott fix. I’m jonesing already. What can I say: she’s made me her junkie bitch.

You can find out more about the author at her website.
She’s also on the Twitter: @meganeabbott

This review has also been posted to Goodreads.

****

A free copy was provided by the publishers through Netgalley for an honest review.

Megan Abbott writes suburban noir cheerleaders

Dare Me ★★★★
Megan Abbott
Reagan Arthur Books, 2012

dare meI’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

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