Megan Abbott's latest novel Dare Me has been making the rounds on blogs and in newspaper and magazine reviews throughout the last month or so. In Dare Me, Abbott takes on the world of competitive cheerleading squads. Not your mama's squads of old with simple clapping and cheering, Abbott's squad is focused on gymnastics, stunts, and winning.
Like the previous Abbott novel I read (see my review of The End of Everything), Dare Me delves into the darker parts of adolescence. Beth and Addy have long been best friends. Their relationship works because Beth is a bosser and Addy is a follower. For as long as anyone can remember, Addy has followed in Beth's footsteps, for good or bad. Until, that is, last summer. During cheer camp, Addy and Beth had a falling out of sorts, one that everything thought would end their friendship. However, much to their fellow cheerleaders' surprise, Addy and Beth made up and were once again a team to be reckoned with.
Enter their new cheer coach, called simply "Coach" by the girls. Coach is daring and different, a figure who the girls both admire and fear. Except for, of course, Beth. Narrator Addy falls under Coach's spell, drifting further and further from Beth. Things spiral quickly out of conrol, leading to an ending no reader would guess ahead of time.
Why you want to read it: Bloggers and reviewers agree: Megan Abbott can write. She draws readers into her story web and doesn't let go until the last drop of blood is drawn. She writes adolescence with a straight-forwardness many writers avoid entirely or sugar-coat. Her characters are well-written and highly interesting.
However, I can't entirely recommend Dare Me as strongly as others have. It is definitely a page-turner. I was engaged and interested until the last page. But, once again (as with The End of Everything), I can't describe the novel as entirely enjoyable. I heard someone (during a Book Club discussion on Devourer of Books) describe the novel as a car wreck you simply can't look away from. I feel this is wholeheartedly accurate. I did not identify (or sympathize) with the characters; I felt the plot was somewhat unrealistic. Yet, I had to keep reading.
The bottom line: There is no doubt that Megan Abbott has talent. She writes well, and she keeps readers engaged. However, she won't rocket to the top of my list of "favorite authors" anytime soon. While I enjoy a well-written page-turner, I also like to like the books I'm reading and the characters that populate them. I need at least one character who I can empathize with, anyway. So far that seems to be lacking in Abbott's novels, but her writing will keep me coming back to discover if anything changes in the future.
Megan Abbott is the author of six previous novels, including last summer's The End of Everything. Not only an author, she is also an academic on the subject with a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from NYU. She has taught at several universities, including NYU. She has also been nominated for awards including three Edgars, the Macavity, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can connect with Abbott on Facebook and on Twitter.