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Dare Me
Format: Hardcover|Change
Price:$21.98+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on May 25, 2015
I wrote this review while playing Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." There are reasons why that's appropriate, but that might delve into spoilerific territory, so I digress.

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
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on November 4, 2017
Unfortunately, I hated this book. This was a situation where I bought the book in a store, thinking the description sounded good. Then, I added it on Goodreads and saw that it didn’t have very good reviews. From there, it sat on my shelf from the time I bought it in 2013 to now. I was making a serious effort to get through some of the backlist books that have been on my shelf the longest, and this was one of those. I hoped that despite the bad reviews, I might enjoy this one. I was wrong.

Dare Me is about a group of high school cheerleaders who get a new pretty, 20-something coach. These cheerleaders are selfish, rude, entitled, and think they are adults, especially the head cheerleader named Beth, so she takes it upon herself to try and undermine the new coach at every chance she gets. She looks for opportunities to hold things over the coach’s head. Beth’s best friend and second in command, Addy, warms up quickly to the coach, and ends up befriending her. When a suicide happens, the group is shaken, and the police start questioning the coach as well as some of the girls on the squad.

There were a number of things about the book that bothered me, starting with the writing. I think the author was trying to write the way teenage girls speak, but instead it came across as very short very fragmented sentences that were hard to read. It’s been a while since I was in my teens, but I have to think that no one talks like that. It felt like the author tried to guess at what teens sound like instead of spending time with teens to figure it out. The writing style put me off so much that I thought multiple times about putting the book down and not finishing it.

The next thing I had issues with were the characters. I didn’t like a single one of them. Not one of them was a good person. I had to wonder constantly where their parents were, since they were constantly at the coach’s house until wee hours in the morning multiple days of the week. Don’t their parents care where they were?

Lastly, I felt like there wasn’t really a point to the entire book. There was no coming of age, no big revelations, there were examples of bad friends, backstabbing, and sex, but no purpose for any of it. I thought the book would go a different direction when I read the description, but unfortunately this one didn’t. This was not a winner for me, and I can’t stay I’d recommend it to anyone. I rated this one 1 star.
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A story about mean, incredibly stupid girls, doing mean, incredibly stupid things...with their coach, no less. A coach who acts more like a mean, high school cheerleader herself, than a married mother of one daughter.

The writing tries to be smart. Yes, indeed, it tries REALLY HARD to be smart. Unfortunately, it just reads as bad grammar and idiotic metaphors with zero meaning. This is my second Megan Abbott book, and I haven't particularly enjoyed either. Her writing style just isn't for me. I have another of her books, The Fever, in my Kindle library, but at this point...I have little desire to even do a quick skim.

Picture the films Mean Girls, Bring It On, and Unfaithful having a baby...and you'll have a pretty clear picture of Dare Me, but with really bad writing and cliched characters.

Two thumbs down.
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on August 18, 2012
If you have read some of my other reviews, you might know that I am addicted to stories set in schools and universities, and in the past year I have been very fortunate to have read some stunners, especially Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Tana French's The Likeness, and amongst school stories, Patrick Gale's Friendly Fire. In one of these Amazon reviews I declared that the best school stories have to be set in boarding schools. But now I'll eat crow. Dare Me is a superb school story. American public school students when they are like the Sutton Grove cheer squad yield nothing to English "Public School" students or American preppies.

Because lots of other reviewers have discussed the setting and characters in Dare Me, I'll focus on the principal characters' relationships. When I was about half way through my initial reading, I would have described Beth as a Number One Mean Girl, who seeks revenge on the new coach for depriving Beth of the captaincy of the cheer squad, I might have predicted that Beth might grow up to be the heroine of a Gillian Flynn novel. After two readings I find that version still plausible but superficial. Beth is a much more complex, and indeed, tragic figure. Like all good tragedies, in Dare Me the Fates bring together characters with extraordinary personal qualities whose mistakes lead to their downfall.

The principal tragic actors are Beth Cassidy the cheer captain and her antagonist, Colette French the cheer coach, but our sole narrator is another cheerleader, Beth's BF and `lieutenant" Addy. Megan Abbott uses the first person point of view brilliantly to envelop her story in mystery and ambiguity. We observe only what Addy witnesses and thinks, but she relies for much of her knowledge on Beth and Coach, both of whom are consummate liars. And Addy's testimony is unreliable as well. "I remember what I choose to remember," she tells us at one point. Much of Addy's recent history with Beth is something Addy keeps deliberately murky, especially her relationship the previous summer at cheer camp with Casey Jaye, a cheerleader from another school who encouraged Addy to break free of Beth's influence. Even before Addy becomes attracted to Coach, Beth had good reason to fear her hold was slipping. And gradually the reader becomes aware that whilst Beth has always been the dominant partner to Addy, it is Beth who is most committed to their relationship, and as is well known to marriage counselors and experts on relationships, it is the partner who is least committed who determines what kind of relationship it is and whether it lasts.

Addy has been Beth's BFF since second grade, and as Addy matures she ought to develop other friendships, especially with an adult like Coach. Unfortunately Coach herself is anything but mature. Although we are told in passing that she had coached another squad, Coach makes blunders typical of a neophyte. Knowing nothing of the previous history of the cheer squad, Coach abolishes the captaincy, although given the lackadaisical leadership of the previous coach, it is only thanks to Beth that she has a squad with any hopes to go to the regionals. Even worse, she substitutes a new flyer for Beth, a girl who lacks Beth's skill to execute a difficult stunt.

As in Patrick Gale's Friendly Fire, teachers who violate boundaries and become too involved with their students often fall prey to a special Nemesis. (Some of us who have been teachers remember just what it was like to feel her hot breath on the back of our necks!) Pathetically, Coach finds herself relying on Addy to cover her back when things go terribly wrong.

Beth's real character and motivations remain mysterious. Her devotion to cheerleading excellence (Homer would have termed it arete) and to Addy are very attractive. She seems to have taken her motto from a World War II Japanese pilot, "I will die only for you above all." And her final words to Addy are "It was always you." Knowing what she meant by these would tell us a lot about who Beth was.

So instead of finding Beth a Mean Girl, I read her as a tragic hero, surely flawed but also gleaming and splendid.
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on January 5, 2015
Addy and Beth had been best friends since childhood. As members of their high school cheerleading squad, Beth was the kingpin, with Addy as her first lieutenant. The balance of power changed upon the arrival of a new, young coach, Colette French.

Beth was diabolical in her efforts to show Ms. French who was really in charge of the squad, with Addy to do much of her dirty work. Ms. French, in the meantime, took Addy under her wing and ultimately made her a confidante in a dangerous situation. This was too much for Beth to handle, so she upped her game. Within a short time, the game turned both ugly and deadly.

Many thoughts ran through my mind as I read this book. I now understand why high schools and colleges have passed rules which curb cheerleading stunts. Studies have shown that cheerleading can be more dangerous than football. Who, in her right mind, would risk life and limb with a vindictive girl like Beth or her weakling sidekick, Addy, tossing them many feet into the air? Beth held nothing but scorn for her teammates and would stop at nothing to humiliate and even cause injury to them.

Where was the once sacrosanct barrier between teacher and student? In my day, we might go out with our coach for a Coke and pizza after a game, but spending hours in the coach's house getting drunk together never entered our minds.

Were the school administrators deaf and blind? Kids talk, and I was shocked that the so-called adult got away with her behavior. One "f" bomb to her charges probably would result in some kind of sanction. And surely no school would condone the teacher's alcohol-fueled parties.

And, most disturbing of all, where were the parents? A group of drunk high school students driving around town at all hours of the night either defies credulity or is an indictment of the parents.

Perhaps I grew up in a gentler, kinder time when cheerleaders and other athletes were nothing more than regular students in the eyes of the faculty. Maybe my local high school, which sends 99 percent of its students to college is an anomaly. Could there be a nexus between strict conduct and dress codes and students who are all required to perform community service before graduation with generally good kids? Are parents who monitor their children's whereabouts old-fashioned and autocratic?

Kids starting at an early age will test limits, and to think that there are teachers like Coleen French in our school systems is frightening. Could Megan Abbott have written this book as a warning?

Standing down from my soapbox now, I found Dare Me to be darkly mesmerising. The characters were richly developed, and sadly, the dialogue through a high school student's mouth was realistic.

I highly recommend this book to parents and to those interested in adolescent psychology. It could be an eye-opener.
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on May 16, 2017
This is my second novel by Megan Abbott and what can I say except for that I love this author! She weaves a tale filled with suspense and so many unexpected twists and turns. This time around, the focus is on world of high school cheerleading, with all its bitchiness and intrigue. The squad gets a new coach which really changes things for both the coach and the team in several unexpected ways. Not going to give any spoilers, but this book is excellent !
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on September 2, 2012
I was both repelled and fascinated by this book. I teach middle school, I know girls can be mean. But still reading about the meanness and the manipulativeness of these girls was disturbing. Also disturbing was the intimate relationship that they had with their cheerleader coach. Boundaries were crossed. As a teacher, I was shocked at the way the coach behaved with her students. I would never, ever use cuss words in front of a student, but perhaps this is the difference between teaching middle school and high school.

What was fascinating about the book was the attitude of the cheerleaders. The way they see themselves. The way they see their bodies.

The writing was strong and set the tone of the story

"Ages fourteen to eighteen, a girl needs something to kill all that time, that endless itchy waiting, every hour, every day for something - anything - to begin. There's something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls."

"Where'd that world go, that world when you're a kid, and now I can't remember noticing anything, not the smell of the leaves or the sharp curl of a dried maple on you ankles, walking? I live in cars now, and my own bedroom, the windows sealed shut, my mouth to my phone, hand slick around it's neon jelly case, face closed to the world, heart closed to everything."

A scary glimpse at what it's like to be a teenager today.
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on December 29, 2012
Dare Me
Megan Abbot

My" in a nutshell" summary...

Angst...cheerleaders...Coach Collette...discovery...mayhem...murder.

My thoughts after reading this book...

Our minds can mix us up so much in our youth making us ask ourselves who we are. I sense this with in this story...which begins as a mean girl cheerleader story and then takes off into so much more. Beth, Addy, and Coach...a weird triangle where Coach is off balance and shares far too much with Addy. Beth...used to being in not in charge any more. Coach Collette sees to that. Coach seems to have a sad marriage, a four year old and suddenly a steamy affair. And again...shares far too much of her life with Addy. Beth...has always had an evil side that scares everyone. Beth is going to do something over the top that involves Coach. Addy is afraid because no one knows Beth the way Addy does.

Not sure about Addy...damaged...yes...girl crush on Coach...I think many issues with Beth even though they have been friends forever! The cheerleaders are hateful to each other...mean and hateful and nasty. They don't eat and are forever throwing up. They appear to live to cheer, drink and eat jello.

Beth, Addy and Coach are involved in a crime with Beth manipulating everyone. You can almost guess how the leaping flying cheering layouts will lead to a terrifying ending.

What I loved about this book...

The angst and the relationships in this book are priceless. They run deep, they are mean spirited and they are fierce.

What I did not love...

This cheering squad with Beth leading, Addy following and Coach cheating was a hot mess.

Final thoughts...

Sad characters and a great story made this book hard to put down.
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on September 16, 2012
I was slightly skeptical when I first heard about this book, the cheerleader/murder mystery seemed kind of...silly? Then I kept reading all these wonderful reviews on Dare Me and read some article on it in a magazine, so I decided to get it on my Kindle. I figured if nothing else, I'd at least like it because I used to be a cheerleader. WRONG! The characters were empty, brainless, hyper sexual, malicious, psychotic, weird, and just plain stupid. The school sysytem intervened nada throughout the whole book, which is completely ridiculous, because I'm sorry, the cheerleading coach, no matter how pretty and mysterious does not run the system. The girls seemed like caricatures of what the author imagined an uber-cheerleader to be. The story line was predicatable and I had solved the "mystery" probably half way through the book. If this book hadn't taken me so long to slog through to the unimaginative ending I would've returned it.
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VINE VOICEon March 2, 2013
High school cheerleader Addy Hanlon, the narrator of "Dare Me," has always been the faithful "second lieutenant" to her best friend, Beth, captain of the squad and Queen Bee supreme. To quote a character in "Not Another Teen Movie," Beth is the cheer-tator and she makes all the cheer-sisons. At least, until with seemingly little effort, new Coach French takes the reins and begins to make a confidant of Addy. But Beth isn't about to relinquish control that easily; she's just biding her time, and when the man Coach is having an affair with winds up murdered, and Addy winds up at the crime scene after being summoned there by Coach, Beth has more than enough ammunition to regain her place. But is that really what she's after?

"Dare Me," does a great job slipping inside the heads of popular teens (most coming-of-age books take the "easy" way out and write from the perspective of the misunderstood outcast or quasi-outcast). The barbs the girls aim at each other don't seem too over the top, and every teen has known someone like Coach French, an adult who just doesn't seem ready to grow up and forsake her position as one of the gang. However, unconvincing plot twists and scenarios (none of the main characters apparently have helicopter parents which are quite common nowadays), sink what could have been both a great thriller and a profound meditation on popularity, friendship and growing up.
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