‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott – Raucous Relentless High School Cheerleaders

‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott    (2012) – 290 pages

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Megan Abbott had fallen under my radar until now.   It is not too surprising that a novel about a girls’ high school cheerleading team would fall under my radar.  What I didn’t realize is that this isn’t young adult fiction by any stretch of the imagination.  This is brutal noir crime fiction.

‘There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.’ 

 Usually I will read an author’s current work to review in order to be as up-to-date as possible.  However, after researching the crime fiction writer Megan Abbott, I decided to read her quintessential novel ‘Dare Me’ first rather than her newest one ‘The Fever’.

What does a hard-boiled murder mystery novel involving high school cheerleaders sound like?  “‘Give us some handsprings, bitches!’, Beth’s voice boomed at us.”  Beth was the captain of the cheerleading team until the new adult coach Colette French arrives and decides there isn’t going to be a squad captain anymore.  Since Beth had always been the captain of everything since grade school, the coach’s decision does not sit too well with her.  To say the least.

I know absolutely nothing about the cheerleading world, but I am quite sure that Megan Abbott nailed it in ‘Dare Me’   Abbott writes with an unforgettable visceral intensity that makes the self-contained world of the cheerleading team come alive.    The incessant texting, the black market in Adderall,  the taking it to the next level all ring true.

“Twice last week she didn’t call for our late-night recap, our laying forth of the maneuvers of the day, who humiliated herself, whose bra is tatty, and whose fat ass is fatting up the whole squad.  We’d done these calls nightly since forever.”  

 56006_320 This is Addy speaking, Beth’s best friend and aide-de-camp until she becomes enamored of the new coach.  She is the voice of ‘Dare Me’ and in a position to understand both Beth and the new coach as well as be present as the cheerleaders practice and perform.  When a sinister suicide occurs, she is there to help us figure it out.

I expect that many female readers are familiar with Megan Abbott, but how do you sell a novel about high school cheerleaders to men?  Some reviewers have called it ‘Fight Club for girls’.

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Queenpin_000At some near point Abbott will cross over into male readership, because her crime writing is so vivid and true-to-life.  It is made for the movies.  They are planning a movie of ‘Dare Me’ possibly starring Natalie Portman.

I notice that Megan Abbott has written several novels before, and they all have lurid covers just like the old noir novels of the 1950s and 1960s.

 

 

 

 

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10 responses to this post.

  1. I really like Abbott’s work, and coincidentally just bought this one. I’ve reviewed two of hers at mine, and liked both, so given your positive writeup of this I’m pretty sure this will be a third success.

    I think The Song is You may be the one that’s supposed to be her best, but I’ve not read that one yet.

    If men aren’t reading these because they’re written by a woman and focus on women then they’re missing out. Abbott’s a seriously good noir writer. I agree that she could easily take off, and I’m not surprised to hear about the movie option.

    Shame they haven’t stuck with the lurid covers. They’re very well done, and it’s nice that Abbott is proud of the roots of her fiction.

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    • Hi Max,
      They should have stuck with the noir covers, because the covers make Megan Abbott distinctive from other female writers. I suppose they wanted some crossover into the general market. But with ‘Gone, Girl’, women’s noir fiction could be the next big thing.
      I’ve been researching women’s noir fiction and want to read Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy Hughes (‘In a Lonely Place’), etc.

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      • Kevin has a good few Highsmith reviews. The Talented Mr Ripley is a great place to start. I’m not as fond of the sequels as Kevin is, but whether you go on to them or not the first book is genuinely excellent.

        I should read her Strangers on a Train, I love the film after all.

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  2. I really enjoyed this, although all the cheerleading (although fascinating) slowed the pace a little in places. The Fever was also excellent fun. I look forward to reading her earlier books too (I have them all on the shelf), but she’s definitely one to watch.

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    • Hi Annabel,
      Somehow the writer’s name, ‘Megan Abbott’, wasn’t a real attention grabber for me. It sounded more likely that she wrote Chick Lit rather than crime fiction. Now I know better, and will definitely pay attention to her work.

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  3. I’ve read many reviews about Megan Abbott’s work, and I usually have two reactions: 1) oh, no, not another book about mean teen girls and 2) holy, crap, this looks good. It seems that my second instinct has slowly overwhelmed the first, because I am totally curious now, especially about The Fever.

    Lydia @ theliterarylollipop

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    • Hi Lydia,
      I admire all writers who try to do something distinctive to stand out from the crowd. Alice Munro is a great writer and surely has a style worthy of emulating, but I think there are just too many writers out there imitating her now. There are just too many heartfelt novels; maybe it is time for a little cold-blooded insincerity and crime.

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