Onyx reviews: Dare Me by
Is there any world more confusing to the average person than that of teenage
girls? This is the society that Megan Abbott explores in Dare Me. The
novel is told from the first person perspective of Adelaide (Addy) Hanlon, a
senior member of the cheerleading squad. She and her best friend Beth Cassidy
have run the show for years, with Beth as the captain and Addy as her lieutenant
and right hand.
The power dynamic changes when their coach leaves and Colette French takes
over. French has a different approach. She sees how lazy the girls had been and
is determined to whip them into shape and become competitive. She quickly gleans
the group's dynamic and eliminates the position of captain. Beth doesn't take
this unexpected fall from power well. Her attitude toward the squad becomes more
lackadaisical. At first, the other girls resent the aches and pains the rigorous
new drills cause, but they begin to band together and take pride in their
accomplishments. For the first time, someone is taking them seriously and wants
them to excel.
French pays special attention to Addy, identifying her as a young woman with
potential. By the same token, she sees that Beth is trouble, a bully who
terrorizes the other members of the team. Add in a little psychic power and the
setup for the novel wouldn't be much different than Carrie. These teens
are often the very epitome of Mean Girls and their borderline psychotic behavior
seems drawn from Heathers. However, this isn't a novel about an ugly
duckling lashing out after she's humiliated. The pivot around which everything
balances is a death that doesn't occur until near the midpoint.
Addy forms a crush on the coach, hanging around the parking lot like a
love-struck schoolboy and wrangling invitations to her house. When she and Beth
learn something shocking about their coach, their reactions are different. Beth
thinks she can use the information as leverage and Addy is simultaneously
jealous and protective. She allows herself to be conscripted into
becoming an accomplice in French's secret life. She learns
that there are many ways to be manipulated and be taken advantage of. Also many
ways to manipulate and take advantage of others. There's so much else going on
that at times it's easy to forget
that at it's heart Dare Me is a noir murder mystery.
Abbott's focus is very narrow. The school has other teachers, but they don't
play a significant part. Parents are not quite relegated to the squawking
nonsense of Charlie Brown adults, but almost. One might expect a lot of drama
between the cheerleaders and the football players for whom they are leading the
crowd's cheers, but the sport on the field is barely mentioned.
For a book involving energetic, healthy young people, there's also an
astonishing shortage of sexual gymnastics. That's not to say that they are prudes.
Sex, when it happens, is used more as a weapon or a tactic than for any kind of
emotional or romantic connection. However, the book reeks of sexual tension. It's like
gasoline vapor awaiting a spark. Their
relationships and their lives are as fragile as the human pyramids they form. A
moment of weakness among any of the team can cause it all to come crashing down.
Abbott has firm command on the lives of her cheerleaders. She understands the
issues that are important to them, which are primarily superficial. Weight,
appearance, limberness, reputation. She knows the lengths to which they are
willing to go to achieve all of these. Addy and the other girls are waiting for
something significant to happen in their lives. Their boredom can be dangerous, but their introduction to the
adult world is more than a coming of age. That oft-used term implies a gradual
awakening to the world around them. For Addy and their friends, nothing is
gradual. It's more like a bombshell going off in their midst. Even adults
are confused and searching for something significant in their lives, the girls learn.
Adulthood does not convey wisdom or certainty.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2012. All rights reserved.