Dare Me

daremePublished: 2012
Author: Megan Abbott

Will completely change your views on cheerleading


Growing up and going to secondary school in Britain in the late 80s and early 90s cheerleaders were not a part of my teenage years. In fact, everything I know about cheerleaders comes from Sweet Valley High, Glee and Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I always took cheerleaders to be the pretty, vacuous girls in American high schools. Good for doing semi-gymnastic routines and chasing the school sports heroes, but not really of any consequence. Megan Abbott’s novel Dare Me about a group of high school cheerleaders could easily change my mind.

Beth Cassidy and Addy Hanlon are the stars of their high school cheerleading squad. Beth is Captain, ruling the girls in the team with an iron fist. Addy is her loyal lieutenant and the narrator of the story. The girls’ perfectly constructed world is shattered by the arrival of new Coach, Colette French, who brings her own rules to the group. Addy finds herself drawn more and more into Coach French’s life, much to Beth’s disgust. Events take a violent turn and Addy’s life is turned upside down.

In the very first chapter Abbott includes the line “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls” and this acts as a statement of intent for what is to come in the next three hundred or so pages. This isn’t a girlish story of teenage bitching or childish bullying. It’s dark and dangerous and a thoroughly adult-orientated read.

The world of cheerleading is taken from the dim, pretty girls prancing into the fast-paced, hard-edge world of professional sports. Which, according to the notes at the back of the book, is how cheerleading should be regarded. Several of the girls suffer nasty injuries while practising and performing – again the notes emphasise that this is based in reality. Apparently cheerleading is the leading cause of sports injuries for girls in the United States and comes second only to (American) Football in the overall rankings overall. Who knew cheerleading was so dangerous?

The exploration of burgeoning teenage sexuality is very well written. Without being explicit it fully explores the developing feelings, passions and confusions that the girls – particularly Addy – are experiencing. There is fabulous insight into the power of these passions and how consuming they become, I’m not sure I’ve read a book before that understands what teenage girls experience. Young Adult novels tend to be too safe, understandable given their audience and Adult fiction downplays the strength of teenagers’ feelings. Not so for Dare Me.

The writing was brisk and, for the most part, exceptionally compelling. At times I could barely stand to put the book down. Unfortunately it slightly lost its way in the middle and the shocking main event took slightly too long to take place. By that time I was beginning to lose faith with the book, thankfully after “the event” Dare Me picked up the pace again and was compelling until the end.

This is a fabulous, fascinating read which will completely change your opinion on cheerleading. It’s violent, visceral, passionate and dangerous – everything you don’t expect of cute blonde schoolgirls and everything that they probably are.

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