Recap: Addy and Beth have worked hard to make it to the top of their high school cheerleading squad, with Addy always coming second to Beth. Beth is the girl who rules the school — a beauty, a force to be reckoned with, an angsty problem child with an attitude. But things go sour for Beth, when a new young Coach takes away her “Captain” status and leaves no one but herself in charge. Meanwhile Addy is fascinated by Coach.
Coach whips the girls into shape, but also enforces strict liquid diets. She invites the team over to drink in her backyard while her husband works late. She has sleepovers with the girls. So while the girls’ bodies tighten and they learn to stunt and tumble, they also develop eating disorders, party hard, have sex, and do drugs. She encourages them to experiment with boys. Addy feeds into all of this, while Beth vehemently dismisses it.
The team is cast under Coach’s spell, especially Addy, who has become Coach’s favorite. She’s the one Coach calls when she finds the dead body of someone close to her. She says it was suicide, but was it? While Coach claims she’s innocent, Beth works to convince Addy that Coach can’t be trusted. But in this dark world, who can?
Analysis: With Dare Me, author Megan Abbott aims to prove there’s more to the world of cheerleading than a mess of lollygagging girls focused on ponytails, sparkles, and miniskirts. This is a dark, twisted story of manipulation, trust, and loyalty. Dare Me is like an unfunny, hyped-up, crime-infused version of Mean Girls.
The prologue sets the creepy, twisted tone of the novel, describing the scene of the mysterious death. One would think that the novel would center around that death. As it turns out, midway through the novel, we’ve already learned who died and have some idea of how. At that point, I thought the remainder would focus on the fallout. But ultimately, the death serves little purpose other than developing relationships between other characters. In the end, it’s the one character that seemed to be the most important, who matters the least.
That’s when it becomes obvious that this isn’t a novel about a crime. It’s a novel about girls becoming women — how friendships ebb and flow, how quickly loyalties can change, how women at times can be both subtle and dramatic, and how much they manipulate each other because of jealousy and competition. It’s a precautionary tale of three good girls gone bad — two of whom manipulate each other and the third who — in a surprising twist — manages to manipulate the reader.
MVP: Beth. She is the one every guy wants and every girl wants to be. She is both admired and hated. Everyone knows a girl like this. Especially in high school. At the end, her pure evil juxtaposed with her sheer vulnerability makes her the novel’s most complex character.