Megan Abbott’s new psychological thriller is a dark look at high school cheerleading, a book referred to by its publisher as “Fight Club for girls” and by Amazon’s Best Books of August as “Glee on steroids.”
Publishers Weekly did a profile of the author which includes this revealing tidbit: “When I was figuring out the plot for Dare Me, I kept reading Richard III. It’s that kind of story: who is in my way and how can I get what I want?”
Concurrent with the release of Dare Me, Abbott wrote an article for the New York Times, “Looking Past the Smile and the Sheen,” on the place of cheerleading in American pop culture.
Adult/High School–Abbott takes the mythology of cheerleading and stands it on its sharpest edge. There’s not much bubbly or perky about these girls–they are hard in mind and body. Accustomed to the inherent privileges of being worshipped and feared from afar, the actual cheerleading has become incidental. For them, there hasn’t been much in life beyond practice, binge-drinking, hook-ups, and managing their eating disorders. Beth made the rules as captain, and the squad ruled the school. Then Coach arrives and brings with her a whole new Darwinian order. The unthinkable happens. Beth is no longer captain and her hold on the girls is gone. Her “lieutenant,” Addy, narrates the events. Coach brings discipline, integrity, and technique to the squad and in so doing becomes Addy’s obsession. She and the rest of the squad, in cultlike fashion, live for the smallest bit of attention from their leader. Coach lets the girls into her personal life while simmering in the background is Beth, and Addy knows Beth always gets the upper hand no matter the cost. A sudden, suspicious death brings with it Beth’s opportunity for dominance. The psychology of the relationships creates a singularly dark atmosphere that goes way beyond Mean Girls. Brilliantly sharp writing raises this work to a level above typical expectations. Whether it’s the description of life-threatening stunts or the inner logic of a teen desperate for connection, Abbott’s prose creates a compelling and unsettling read for mature teens.–Priscille Dando, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA