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Book Review- “Dare Me”

The passions and demons that drive the citizens of suburbia are just as dark, fascinating, and dangerous as those that drive the law men and law breakers of a crime ridden metropolis. Crime writer Megan Abbott understands this. In her last novel, “The End of Everything” she showed readers that plenty of twisted and horrifying secrets lay deep in the heart of several suburban families. And in her latest novel, “Dare Me” Abbott takes readers into another misunderstood world where dangerous mysteries lay underneath a sunny seeming surface, the world of high school cheerleading. The result is a highly satisfying novel that reads like a combination of the film “Bring It On,” and the television series “Veronica Mars” with the political intrigue and gamesmanship of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” series.

At the center of “Dare Me” are two fascinating characters Adelaide “Addy” Hanlon and her best friend Beth Cassidy.  Beth is the captain of her high school cheerleading squad and Addy, the book’s point of view character, is her “lieutenant.” What’s fascinating about Addy is when she starts the book she’s sort of become unsure of who she is and what she could become, and over the course of the novel you see her slowly start to take charge of what’s going on in her life. By the book’s end she becomes a highly capable and even somewhat dangerous character. In the last 100 pages of the book she’s like her world’s equivalent of an obsessed hard-boiled private detective. It’s a captivating transformation.

Beth is intriguing because she’s almost a force of nature. When she wants something there’s no escaping her. Whether it’s attention, respect, or the destruction of a rival Beth almost always gets what she wants. That’s because she’s a master manipulator. The schemes she constructs are worthy of Tyrion Lannister from “A Song of Fire and Ice” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” adaptation. You often seen Beth’s plans through Addy’s eyes so you’re not always exactly sure what she’ s up to, but it’s fascinating and frightening to watch her work.

Beth has to work over time when the school’s new cheer leading coach, Collette French, arrives early in the book and does away with the captain position.  French is a mysterious and charismatic character so she casts a spell over the rest of the team and soon her popularity and position of dominance has surpassed Beth’s own.

Addy becomes especially close to Coach French, much to Beth’s chagrin. So she’s torn between being loyal to her vindictive best friend and the coach who’s showing her and her team mates that they and the sport of cheerleading can be so much more than they believed.

So the early chapters of “Dare Me” are interesting because they take you into the political dynamics of school and the bonding experience of a team. Abbott effectively demonstrates that the intense physical training cheerleaders can go through and some of the death defying stunts they perform create tight bonds. Generally football players are viewed as the warrior class of high school, but in “Dare Me” Abbott makes a compelling and powerful argument that cheerleaders are every bit as tough as the athletes they cheer on.

The power struggles and inner turmoil of “Dare Me” gets ramped up even further mid way through the book when a supporting character tied to Coach French suddenly dies and Addy is forced to investigate the circumstances of that death. Was it a suicide? Or murder? And what sort of machinations lead up to the death?

As I mentioned earlier watching Addy play determined detective is fascinating and she has a lot to dig through to uncover the truth. The pace of Addy’s investigation is also kept energized and tight because of a police investigation and the looming final game of the season.

I’d love to say more about the book, but to do so would spoil some of its great reveals. The ending especially is a powerful and chilling one.  So if you’re a crime fiction fan, don’t dismiss “Dare Me” because of its premise and cast of characters. It’s a hell of a read and in it Abbot shows that the world of cheerleaders can be dark, dangerous, and utterly fascinating.

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