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We're all the same under our skin, aren't we? We're all wanting things we don't understand. Things we can't name. The yearning so deep, like pinions over our hearts.
I am 100% oblivious to cheerleader culture. I have crossed paths with one squad in my entire lifetime, during a basketball tournament, and they weren't exactly exicted to perform because their team was kicking our asses something fierce. Not so long about, I was about 99% oblivious to Megan Abbott's career, but then I read THE END OF EVERYTHING and was taught a thing or two about the heart of young girls in a language I understood and loved right off the bat. Abbott's writing style is direct, profound and violent in a deceitful way. That alone convinced me to read DARE ME, a novel that could've very well eluded me otherwise.
The narrator of DARE ME is young Addy Hanlon, who defines herself by being a cheeleader and by being the best friend of Beth Cassidy, alpha girl of the squad. Her life changes when newcomer Colette French is given coaching duties of the cheerleading squad by the school. She is different from the world Addy already knows. She is the strong and smart and beautiful type. Coach French immediatly swept Beth's toxic influence aside and takes the cheerleading squad to new heights, but as the barriers break between the coach and her squad and that coach reveals her troubled intimate life, Beth smells blood and tries to regain her throne. The situation eventually evolves way beyond a simple power struggle.
One of my favorite things about DARE ME is that you can use it to deconstruct the notion of genre. It basically is crime fiction, but it's a few details away from being young adult fiction. It emphasize what is important to get a reader to care about your story : conflict (internal and external), secrets, implicit violence, character flaws, etc. I cannot tell you how many books I've read where guns, meth dealers and soulless evil antagonists that torture only women and children are used as a substitute for a good, layered storyline and thoroughly crafted characters. DARE ME is as minimalistic as it gets, but it explores every inches of what it offers : the transforming inner-life of a teenage girl facing a character-shaping ordeal.
Her tights are shuddering whitely and his hand curves around the back of her had, buried in her dark hair, sweat-stuck and triumphant.
Her face, though, that's what you can't take your eyes off of.
The dreamy look, her pinkening cheeks, all elation and mischief and wonder, like I never saw in her, like she's never been with us, so strict and exacting and distant, like a cool machine.
It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
I don't know an author who write intimacy as well as Megan Abbott does. Granted I've only read novels with teen narrators from her, they are written in a journal-like fashion that is absolutely heartbreaking. Her protagonists aren't obsessed with boys * and have complex thoughts that reflect how uncanny it is not to be a child anymore and yet not to be an adult. Addy Hanlon's mind is stuck between these two gears, like the mind of real teenagers is, and what makes her so endearing is that she understand her need to evolve from the events that are currently shaping her. Beth is quite endearing herselg because you cannot detach her action from the loss of control she seems to be suffering. Her behavior do not seem arbitrary at all. DARE ME is one of the rare novels that draws a portrait of teenagers that actually satisfies me.
I enjoyed DARE ME very much. The events of the novel may have been a little too under control for me to go bonkers over it, like I went over THE END OF EVERYTHING **, but it is a strongly-delivered novel by one of the most detail-oriented, quirky novelists working today. It doesn't matter whether or not you care about cheerleaders. All you need to know is that when Megan Abbott leads the way, things get interesting, whoever the protagonist is. DARE ME is an intimate, transcendent and smart crime novel about how loss is part of life and a formative experience in its own way.
* There is one crush in DARE ME. It lasts for about 10-12 pages and it DOES serve the storyline.
** The more shit hits the fan, the more delighted Ben is.