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Dare Me Hardcover – January 1, 2012
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"Afascinating, almost voyeuristic, glimpse into the power struggle that goes on between teenaged girls. Not just any teenaged girls-cheerleaders-with their own unique hierarchy and fierce code of loyalty, which they'll protect at any cost. There's a dark and twisted love story here, told with a rich sensual undertone that lingers long after you close the last page, still breathing in your ear: Dare me."―Chevy Stevens, New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing and Never Knowing
"In Dare Me Megan Abbott guides us into the subculture of athletic and fierce young cheerleaders, who train together, compete, andbond until they form a rugged unit much as Marines form a rugged unit. She finds the nearly sinister underside of everyday events and somehow builds great suspense from ingredients that seem so familiar. Abbott has become expert at revealing truths we thought we knew but didn't, delivered in prose that is by turns elegant and incantatory."―Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone
- Publisher : Reagan Arthur Books; 1st edition (January 1, 2012)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316097772
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316097772
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.88 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,087,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It’s scary, codependent, manipulative, loving, kind, and jealous. It understands things no other teenage girls understands unless they cheer, the massive amount of practice and body conditioning, and the brutal idea that you have to look and act a certain way.
It touches on the dangerous, and unhealthy diets these girls put their bodies through. It shows the manipulation of both friends and enemies, a deep desperation to fit in or even a deeper desperation to not fit in. It show’s the per pressure for having sex, doing drugs and alcohol, but keeping that perfect cheerleading persona.
To be a perfect friend, to be a perfect daughter, to be a perfect student, to be a perfect athlete, to be a perfect women, to have to play stupid high school games and play them to perfection or take a chance to be left behind. Left behind in a small going no where town, when you have maybe one shot at getting the hell out for good.
Then a real Couch comes along as a friend, a confidant, a manipulator, a very unprofessional person in authority, using her power of that authority over her girls and the girls falling for it. But there’s alway one rebel, one girl doesn’t want to play the same games, this girl doesn’t see Couch as a god, she see’s her as a fake.
The coach has ulterior motives, personal, romantic, professional, not doing her due diligence for the school district, her girls, the PTA, all the supports including the loving families she works for and those entities expecting 100% for their girls. A Couch is there to protect, care, nurture and teach the girls to make their own right decisions, get strong, and grow into well liked, smart, responsible young ladies who can think on their own. She is a bad Mom and a worse Wife.
For some of these girls the absolute desperation to get away and out from this small town, you’d do almost anything to just walk away. This is a sad story of a small town. The parents have done the best for their kids they can do under the constraints the families live by. But the kids don’t see this, they see ways out, any way out they can. The boys go into the military or off to school to play sports. Some of the girls see only one way out and that is cheer. They will do what every it takes to go away to college, damn their friends, damn their families, damn everything and everyone they have ever know, for them they need to get out.
Addy and Beth are in such a codependent, dependent relationship. Beth is so jealous of Addy, Beth would do anything to have Addy back as her BFF, but there is to much damage under that bridge, and they may never get their loving friendship back ever. They love one another, and they hate another, they feed off of each other and manipulate each other. It’s a very sad and extremely abusive relationship. Then you add all the other characters, storylines and a fairly shocking ending and you have a pretty entertaining book. I do wonder how close this hits home for these girls out there in small towns where the only way out is Cheerleading.
Forewarning: this will be a long review, possibly one breaking the character limit. That might be surprising considering I'm giving this (close to) 5-stars. In the aftermath of reading this, I will definitely be reading more of Megan Abbott's work. No question.
Short version of this review: I freaking loved this book. Problematic as all heck - I realize - but that was a ride I would want to ride again, over and over. Willingly.
The long version of this review gets a bit more complicated because I'll acknowledge this book has significant caveats and (notably) won't strike everyone the same way. It is entirely a love it or hate it read, and it's problematic to say the least (understatement). I understand why, and I'd understand anyone's hesitation to pick it up. I should also mention that while this features a teen protagonist, this is very much an adult book. (I definitely think there are teens who would appreciate this read for what it offers. Considering the content, though, it's a hard bargain. Discretion advised.)
I'd honestly say this is one to give a try at the very least because...dude. Let's have a conversation.
"Dare Me" was yet another library recommended read that I randomly picked up in the context of recs made in the scheme of "Gone Girl." As you guys know, I take comparison reads very lightly. More often than not, they're not always accurate and can set up unrealistic expectations. In the aftermath of reading this, I somewhat see why the rec came about. For one, it's a very dark read - the tension in "Dare Me" is so thick wading through it, you find yourself lost in its pull of the trainwreck variety. I could not stop reading this book once I started. Even putting it down, I wanted to pick it back up again because I had no idea where the heck it was going. It has more than its fair share of twists and turns.
Another similarity: the characters are supremely unlikable. I didn't like a single character in this book, not even the protagonist Addy (who arguably has some sympathetic qualities, she's quite the anti-hero). So you might wonder why I give close to five stars for a book that's essentially about a bunch of pretentious, self-absorbed teenage cheerleaders abusing Adderall and doing everything they can to maintain slim figures and championing unhealthy eating habits and eating disorder behavior?
Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for well-developed, unlikable characters playing head games with each other and exploiting/competing in positions of power, which is pretty much what happens in this book. Almost to the point it could be Shakespearean. Think Othello being manipulated by Iago when it comes to O's relationship with Desdemona. Except this isn't a romance or really something that's heavily suggestive in that scheme. Not in the least (though you could fill a bucket with the sexual tension in this book). Relationships are manipulated and manipulative. Every single character here has their own aims and desires and they'll do whatever they feel necessary to get what they want. Or protect whom they need to in some cases.
I'm still shocked that this book pulled me in as much as it did. I had no idea what I was signing up for when I picked up this book and I ended up completely blindsided for the experience.
The story on its surface seems like a stereotypical one: you have a cheerleading team that's led by a very strong social butterfly (Beth) for a team captain and her best friend (Addy). Addy is the narrator for this book, and by every measure of description - Addy and Beth's relationship is inseparable. Beth's the queen, Addy's her partner in crime. Their relationship is a formidable one and not necessarily challenged by their peers. At least until a new coach comes into town.
The new coach is a young, seemingly powerful woman that gradually wins over the team's affections with her no-nonsense approach to the drills and performances of the team. But it's also her lax demeanor that draws the girls in and allows them to bond with her. Abbott's descriptions for the performances by the team unfolds like watching a dance - I loved the descriptions here, even if sometimes they seem a bit superfluous.
My enjoyment's probably heightened there because:
1. The descriptions seem so vivid that they're artistically drawn in the prose.
2. I'm a graduate in exercise science so the attention given to their bodies and movements really captivated me. I haven't seen that in a lot of texts like this and Abbott portrays it very well.
3. The portrayal syncs truthfully with the character voice, for better and worse. Addy's character matches her voice for depictions of events and performances in her witness - she's a spoiled teenage girl with a dark streak and surrounded by other characters who are just as flawed as she is. This is especially well noted in the audio reading of this book. Addy's reflections are indulging for senses and symbolic parallels, yet flawed at the same time. So it worked for me.
The coach seems to win everyone over, except Beth. Beth hates the coach with a furious passion, one Addy can't quite put her finger on for certain measures. At first Addy thinks it's because Beth has lost her former power as the team's captain, but it becomes more as Beth's hatred becomes personal, borderline obsessive over the Coach's life and secrets that are kept between the girls.
Then the unthinkable happens to someone in their circles, and it throws the coach and the girls into a tailspin. Addy finds herself front and center in the midst of a game of secrets, lies, and manipulations. She's a puppet trying to find out who's pulling her strings and why. I LOVED that aspect of it. The story unfolds like a whodunit mystery but at the same time a dark series of power struggles and sensual tension that builds with a swelling crest up until the "a-ha" moment comes about. I didn't know what route it would go until the last possible point, and it made sense as far as the lying and manipulations were concerned on behalf of multiple parties.
Addy's relationship with the coach is palpable, and the Coach, while she seems admirable on the surface, ends up not being much more mature than the students she teaches as her flaws come to the forefront, and she has her own motivations to lie. I saw that as intentional and not a flaw of the text itself. Whether the Coach's motivations are to protect herself or others remains to be seen, and Addy's left to the task of uncovering that on her own. Of course, Addy's pretty much a pawn in some measures, because she's played multiple times between people. It's also revealed that Addy knows Beth is far more twisted for intentions than one would think, to a point that Beth has this hate/love game that she makes Abby play - one piece at a time.
While this read might seem cliche on the surface, it's really many layers of a drama built on top of an established stereotype, to be honest. It doesn't mince the fact that these characters are flawed, nor does it push the cast as worthy of emulation - rather stuck in their own delusions. Addy, Beth, and the rest of the crew are all flawed, and standing high on a precipice of denial, indulgence and power, with an event that rattles and threatens to break their foundation. (And I like the parallel that's drawn to the cheerleading routines with this aspect.) It's certainly seen (and felt) with respect to Addy's character, as she tries to navigate the confusion and conflict she feels over events even while she's a character with her own twisted justifications for things. She's also more than willing to hurt whom she has to in order to seek the answers she wants.
And OMG, Beth. Can we talk about Beth? She's probably the character that's love to hate here. She's tugging strings and she doesn't care, but the text manages to give her human qualities in the scheme of things, even if you're not sure why she does the things she does up until a certain point, especially when Addy starts revealing things from their past that suggests her own callousness that could run parallel with Beth's manipulations. The two are really more similar than you'd think from the beginning of the work, and neither one of them are necessarily more "moral" than the other. It's just a matter of seeing why they act and react the way they do. Even then, there are points where it leaves you guessing because you're not exactly sure why their loyalties still lie to each other, but yet they're still willing to hurt and manipulate their close relationship. It's a power play, and the fact it's done by these teenage girls who have such social standing is scary enough to think about, especially when it comes to their coach and what they know and how they choose to dance with that information. There's some suspension of disbelief to be had, and I think Abbott works it well - but for some readers, that suspension may not be enough to drive some of the strong symbolic qualities and overarching themes this work has to offer. And that's a shame, because when it hits the ground running, it does remarkably well. I saw it, and I loved it.
The ending of the work is hit or miss for events. I thought it was a bit quick for the resolution and even then, there's not a fulfilling sense of vindication for the wrongs that are committed. Then again, I don't think it was meant to be that kind of story, as this cast of fools pretty much end up with a queen and you're watching how all of them collide and function in this bubble, along with the "why".
In the end, "Dare Me" answers the question of how far its cast will go to be on top, or risk losing it all, even if it has deadly consequences. I thought the book was brilliant for what it chose to show, with some rough edges and suspensions to take into consideration. I would read this again, readily, for how dark, twisted, and vivid the presentation came across in Abbott's narrative.
Overall score: 4.5/5 stars
Top reviews from other countries
If you're not American or with a knowledge of cheerleading then the opening chapters are as alien as if the author were writing about the customs and habits of a remote African tribe. And there are hints that the book is going to go down a rather cliched line (which it doesn't).
Once you get into it however, a lack of cheerleading knowledge doesn't matter - it becomes an absorbing psychological thriller as Addy, the narrator, is torn between the new coach and her best friend Beth. The novel twists and turns with Addy's internal conflict, revealing as it does the emotions under the surface, as dark events take place. In fact, it reminds me strongly of David Lynch's work, notably Blue Velvet.
Addy is a very "unreliable narrator" - but what isn't clear is whether this is due simply to being a 16 year old who is growing up and rapidly gaining experience of the adult world.
Like Joseph Conrad, Megan Abbott seems interested in the consequences of action and events on the characters, rather than the actions themselves. (She's nothing like Conrad in any other respect!). So it becomes more of a "whydunnit" rather than a "whodunnit". And the finale - which isn't the reveal of the mystery, but the final "what happened after" - casts a whole new slant on the story.
Definitely recommended if you like dark and subtle novels - though with the caveat that the early chapters are hard going
There is a quote from it that sums things up perfectly. There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls. And often there is, there really really is…
In “Dare Me” we meet Addy, a popular girl, second in command to main popular girl Beth, and for a long time they have ruled school life and the cheer squad with relentless charm and ruthlessness and lived their lives by a certain order and routine that outwardly looks pretty cool but both of these girls have a lot of inner turmoil. Some of it standard teenage angst but some of it a lot darker…
When Colette arrives to coach the team everything changes – in a lot of ways she is like an older version of the girls she teaches, with added life experience and not necessarily their best interests at heart. I found her to be a particularly fascinating character as she draws the team into a more adult world, one they really are totally unprepared for. Her agenda is unclear, but everyone gets caught up in her maelstrom with often devastating results.
Megan Abbott writes with a beautifully dark and intense prose that draws you into the world she has created and gets you right to the heart of the matter. Her characters are insightfully drawn with a real depth of feeling so that you believe you understand them and their actions…until the rug is pulled out from under you and you realise that things are not that straightforward. Intelligently done and with some very dark themes bang at the centre, I found this to be a highly intriguing, emotional and captivating coming of age tale.
Characterisation really is key here, as understanding grows as to the true nature of the players, it is compelling and often downright scary reading. The things that are hidden just below the surface of the glitz and glamour of the cheerleading life are thought provoking and terrifically gripping, I could barely put it down. I’m loathe to give anything away, but the story flows in an engaging and captivating way that makes this easily a one sitting read and as things unfold, you may often be on the edge of your seat. This is a disconcerting, often startling and very unsettling read but absolutely riveting and with a real psychological depth especially when it comes to manipulative personalities. Be afraid…be very afraid…
**source: Purchased copy**
The author clearly has no idea whatsoever of how teenagers act or talk, and though the plot had an intriguing premise, the story was incredibly bland and monotonous. Definitely could've been much better.