I found Dare Me by Megan Abbott through a list of books to read if you liked Gone Girl. It was a dark and anxious thriller, set in the fearsome world of American high school cheerleaders – girls who are paper thin but vicious, determined and destructive.
Firstly, I loved the writing style. Reminiscent of Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord, the prose is stunning and vividly descriptive, pulling you in the girl’s world of duplicity, ambition, loyalty and betrayal. It’s very haunting and downright scary in it’s portrayal of the most dangerous years of adolescence. The book has a high edge of theatricality running through it – characters that talk like a film noir or an old western movie – it’s dark and different and shows how out of touch these teenagers have become after living in their little bubble of cheer and glory. Megan Abbott is a masterful writer and I look forward to reading some of her other books.
In Dare Me, Beth and Addy have always been top dog and deputy respectively, but in their senior year their cheer team gets a new coach. Where before they were content to skim on the surface and just dance, their new coach – the crisp and efficient Collette French – pushes them to reach higher heights, greater ambition. Representing the sort of confident and untouchable adulthood that the girls are trying to build for themselves, they follow with a fervid devotion to become athletes and ice-queens. Fearless to the point of insanity, their bodies must be thinner and honed to perfection, their routines death-defying against better judgement.
When a suicide throws the coach and select members of her team under suspicion of murder, Addy must learn quickly about adult loyalty and personal gain, trying to save her fragile role in the world, while finding herself at odd ends with her best friend Beth, who is on a rampage of vengeance and backstabbing after finding her position as queen is threatened.
The girls and the coach herself are all at war – with themselves, with their teammates – and find very quickly that even when you win, you lose.