The Plot: Ryan Stone is looking forward to his senior year, and why not? He’s the star baseball player, getting scouted by colleges and teams; he has great friends; and an ex-girlfriend that may be more than an ex.
One of his friends dares him to get the phone number of a girl: the girl selected? She’s got black hair, torn clothes, a hardcore Skater Girl.
Needless to say, good boy Ryan doesn’t get the girl’s number. She won’t be played.
The girl is Beth Risk. After an incident with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, her long lost uncle swoops in to save the day, taking Beth back to his perfect little town.
Beth doesn’t want to be saved. She wants to go back to her mother and her friends.
Oh, and guess who else is in this perfect town? That’s right, Ryan.
What starts as a dare turns out to be something more.
The Good: I adored Dare You To. Just loved it.
Why? Because Beth. Her voice is terrific: she’s tough on the outside, yes, because life has made her tough. She’s the child of teenage parents who didn’t get their act together when they had a kid. Drug and alcohol abuse and neglect means that often Beth is the caretaker in the family. Because she has been let down, over and over, she has defenses up. Trusting anyone, getting close to anyone, is a risk she doesn’t take. Also? Beth is funny and wry and smart in her observations. So many times reading this, I started laughing out loud, because of what Beth said.
Ryan — Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. Yes, the popular jock, but his life isn’t quite as perfect as it looks. Being from a good family in a small town means that the family lives it’s life by “what will the neighbors think.” They practice what they preach; and think a lot about whether their neighbors are doing the right thing.
Take Beth’s family. People like Ryan’s parents hold her background against her. It’s all judgment based on her parents’ actions, not her own. Bonus to that, it’s shown it’s mighty hard to overcome that. Beth’s uncle is Mr Respectable, but only because he’s spent the last ten or so years working hard to make something of himself. Do Ryan’s parents care about the fine home he now has? The nice wife he has? The over ten years playing professional baseball? No, because what matters is who his parents were, who is brother was.
Luckily, not everyone is like Ryan’s parents. As for Ryan himself, part of his growth in Dare You To is realizing that his parents’ attitudes are wrong and even hurtful. Yes, it’s in part because he starts to fall for Beth and his parents are “no no no.” But even more important is Ryan’s older brother, Mark. When Mark, now in college, came out to his family they reacted in full “but the neighbors” mode and cut Mark out of their lives. Even Ryan has, thinking “if Mark cared about us, he wouldn’t be doing this. He’d keep it a secret.” (Another reason I like Dare You To? Because the treatment of Mark, and Ryan’s reactions, is all too real for some teens. It’s still tough out there for GLBT teens. Dare You To is being honest in showing what happens for some teens.)
While Beth was my favorite, I also liked Ryan. Good thing, because for a romance you want to root for both! Ryan is a jock, yes, and I love how Dare You To showed the work that goes into playing baseball, as well as the love of the sport, and what it means to practice. Ryan is also a senior and is torn between turning professional or going to college. It turns out, Ryan has a talent for writing. His father is bewildered why there is any choice to be made: turn professional, right? But it’s not that easy.
Beth views her uncle leaving to play baseball as an abandonment. It makes sense; her father also left. But here’s the thing: Scott left to play professional ball right out of high school. Yes, high school. So his leaving her, to her neglectful parents? Was something an eighteen year old kid did. I understood how he needed to take care of himself before being able to return to help Beth. I’m not saying Scott is always right; he comes across a bit too controlling, a bit to “do everything my way right now,” wanting to be the hero and not listening to what Beth really needs or wants. Even with that, though, keep in mind: Scott is not yet thirty. Not yet thirty, with a teenage niece he loves, who he knows needs help, and he’s not quite sure what to do.
See that complexity in the family and friendships? Delicious!
I hope this next bit is not too spoilery for you. Beth is tough because she has had a tough life. Abandonment, neglect, abuse. But, that does not include sexual assault. Dare You To was refreshing to me because of that, because I’ve read one too many stories where childhood sexual assault is used more to create a backstory than to address such assault. Also, Ryan’s own family secrets did not include physical abuse. Yes, his parents are controlling but they aren’t abusive. Again, refreshing, because I’ve read one too many stories where to illustrate a person’s family problems the issues are heaped up, one after the other. It is, indeed, enough to have a father who drives his son too hard on the baseball field; and for that “too hard” to include the father’s own dreams rather than the son’s.
This is the part where I have to stop myself, because I find myself wanting to say “and what was great was…. and what was terrific was…. and I laughed when….”
After I finished Dare You To, I realized that this is part of a series. And, not even the first book in the series. So, no, they don’t have to be read in order. I’d say more than series, they are books with overlapping characters but no overlapping plot. The other two books, Pushing the Limits (2012) and Crash Into You (2014) are about two of Beth’s friends.
One funny thing. Let me say, I loved Dare You To, loved Beth, and yes, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2013. That said? I have never seen the appeal of the “dare you’ games that Ryan and his friends play. Why? Because it’s playing with people’s feelings. From the start, with the dare being about getting girl’s phone numbers, I thought “this isn’t cute or funny, it’s mean to these girls who have no idea.” I loved that Beth had Ryan’s number on this from the start, figuring out what was going on, and how then this fear (is it just a dare?) appeared every now and then even after the dares had ended. I just wanted to point out that I loved this book, even with the dares! Probably because Beth figures it out early on; and, at least one other character also is all “don’t play with people like that.”