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Dare Me: A Novel

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Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy's best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they're seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls ? until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws ...

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Overview

Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy's best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they're seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach's golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as "top girl" — both with the team and with Addy herself.

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain.

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as "total authority and an almost desperate intensity," provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Edgar Award-winner Abbott dives into a gut-churning tale of revenge, power, desire, and friendship in the insular world of high school cheerleading, in her latest (after The End of Everything). Addy Hanlon, 16, has always been second lieutenant, “fidus Achates,” to her best friend Beth, who’s pep squad captain. But when a new coach flippantly removes Beth from power and takes Abby as her confidante, Beth turns vengeful. The new coach transforms the squad, changing it from a costumed clique to a competitive team and earning the cheerleaders’ adulation, but the squad’s development has a darker side: eating disorders, rivalries, cruelty, and the blurring of lines between student and adult. The coach has a darker side, too, and Abby is drawn into her secrets, including a troubled marriage. A shocking turn sends everyone spiraling wildly—and traps Abby in the middle. Abbott’s writing in her sixth novel is deliciously slick and dark, matching her characters’ threatening circumstances, and the plot is tight and intense, building a world in which even the perky flip of a cheerleader’s skirt holds menace. “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls,” one character says. Indeed. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House. (July)
Tom Franklin
"I dare you not to love this book. You lucky reader."
Daniel Woodrell
"In Dare Me Megan Abbott guides us into the subculture of athletic and fierce young cheerleaders, who train together, compete, andbond until they form a rugged unit much as Marines form a rugged unit. She finds the nearly sinister underside of everyday events and somehow builds great suspense from ingredients that seem so familiar. Abbott has become expert at revealing truths we thought we knew but didn't, delivered in prose that is by turns elegant and incantatory."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR DARE ME:

"A fascinating, almost voyeuristic, glimpse into the power struggle that goes on between teenaged girls. Not just any teenaged girls-cheerleaders-with their own unique hierarchy and fierce code of loyalty, which they'll protect at any cost. There's a dark and twisted love story here, told with a rich sensual undertone that lingers long after you close the last page, still breathing in your ear: Dare me."—Chevy Stevens, New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing and Never Knowing

"Arresting, original and unputdownable."—Rosamund Lupton, New York Times bestselling author of Sister

"I dare you not to love this book. You lucky reader."—Tom Franklin, New York Times bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

"DARE ME sneaks up on you from behind, pulling on long-forgotten memories of teenaged desperation, obsession, and desire. This is truly masterful storytelling."—Alafair Burke, author of Never Tell

"Megan Abbott's brilliant new book presents a number of possibilities-the mysterious and the erotic, as well as the inevitable and paradoxical lessons of girlhood-with such illumination that the joyful terrors of adolescence were once again present in me. Abbott's characters, confronted with unaccustomed questions and strange, new difficulties, remind us that the loss of innocence can, if we are fortunate, emerge into a lustrous wisdom."—Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut

"In Dare Me Megan Abbott guides us into the subculture of athletic and fierce young cheerleaders, who train together, compete, andbond until they form a rugged unit much as Marines form a rugged unit. She finds the nearly sinister underside of everyday events and somehow builds great suspense from ingredients that seem so familiar. Abbott has become expert at revealing truths we thought we knew but didn't, delivered in prose that is by turns elegant and incantatory."—Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone

Abbott marries the best pleasures of the pulp tradition with the highest ambitions of literary craft, yielding a novel that offers a strikingly diverse spectrum of readerly pleasures: It's a gripping murder mystery cloaked in a shrewd examination of female friendships, draped in rah-rah Americana, then reflected in the funhouse mirror of contemporary teenagerdom."—Adam Sternbergh, Slate

Rosamund Lupton
"Arresting, original and unputdownable."
Alafair Burke
"DARE ME sneaks up on you from behind, pulling on long-forgotten memories of teenaged desperation, obsession, and desire. This is truly masterful storytelling."
Chevy Stevens
EARLY PRAISE FOR DARE ME:

"A fascinating, almost voyeuristic, glimpse into the power struggle that goes on between teenaged girls. Not just any teenaged girls-cheerleaders-with their own unique hierarchy and fierce code of loyalty, which they'll protect at any cost. There's a dark and twisted love story here, told with a rich sensual undertone that lingers long after you close the last page, still breathing in your ear: Dare me."

Susanna Moore
"Megan Abbott's brilliant new book presents a number of possibilities-the mysterious and the erotic, as well as the inevitable and paradoxical lessons of girlhood-with such illumination that the joyful terrors of adolescence were once again present in me. Abbott's characters, confronted with unaccustomed questions and strange, new difficulties, remind us that the loss of innocence can, if we are fortunate, emerge into a lustrous wisdom."
Library Journal
Abbott's (The End of Everything) new novel takes readers behind the glitter and pom-poms of a varsity cheerleading squad to explore the dark undercurrents of high school girls. Captain Beth Cassidy, her first lieutenant Addy Hanlon, and the rest of the squad are upended when their school hires a new cheerleading coach. Sleek and knowing, Coach Collette French slices through their bravado and turns the girls into true athletes rather than merely "cheerlebrities." This results in an atmosphere in which some alpha girls falter, while others rise through the ranks. But the coach's relationship with the girls outside of school drags them into a very adult world of romantic entanglements, culminating in a shocking crime that threatens them all. VERDICT Abbott has a keen sense for the beauty, danger, and vulnerability of teenage girls; her spare, elegant prose cuts straight to the heart of the high school pecking order and brings the girls' world to life. Recommended for readers who enjoy dramatic stories about female relationships; it may also appeal to mature young adult readers. [See Prepub Alert, 1/21/12; seven-city tour.]—Amy Hoseth, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins
Kirkus Reviews
Following the direction taken by her last novel (The End of Everything, 2011, etc.), Edgar winner Abbott again delivers an unsettling look at the inner life of adolescent girls in the guise of a crime story. The setting is an unnamed, frighteningly familiar town that could be found anywhere in contemporary America. Narrator Addy has been lifelong best friend to Beth, now the powerful captain of Sutton Grove High School's cheerleading squad. The cheerleaders are popular mean girls, and Beth is the meanest and most popular. Then a new coach, young and pretty Colette French, arrives. She immediately asserts her authority, not only taking away the girls' cell phones, but also announcing there will be no squad captain. A battle of wills ensues between Coach and Beth. Skilled at manipulation, Coach has the early upper hand. The girls respond to her tight discipline as well as to her perfect hair and her invitations to hang out at her carefully decorated house, where she lives with her workaholic husband and little girl. In particular, Coach befriends Addy, whose relationship with Beth has been strained since a dark episode at cheerleading camp the summer before. Addy tries to balance her increasingly divided loyalties but is gradually pulled into Coach's orbit. Soon, Addy is spending more time at Coach's house than anyone else. When Beth and Addy catch Coach having sex in the faculty lounge with a handsome National Guard recruiting officer assigned to the high school, Addy swears Beth to silence. But Beth's simmering resentment and jealousy concerning Addy's relationship with Coach have reached a boiling point by the time the officer turns up dead in his apartment. The whodunit aspect surrounding this death pales against the dark sexual and psychological currents that ripple among the girls (and Coach); the question of who is emotional victim versus who is predator becomes murkier and more disturbing than any detective puzzle. Compelling, claustrophobic and slightly creepy in a can't-put-it-down way.
Alafair Burke
"DARE ME sneaks up on you from behind, pulling on long-forgotten memories of teenaged desperation, obsession, and desire. This is truly masterful storytelling."
Rosamund Lupton
"Arresting, original and unputdownable."
Chevy Stevens
PRAISE FOR DARE ME:

"A fascinating, almost voyeuristic, glimpse into the power struggle that goes on between teenaged girls. Not just any teenaged girls-cheerleaders-with their own unique hierarchy and fierce code of loyalty, which they'll protect at any cost. There's a dark and twisted love story here, told with a rich sensual undertone that lingers long after you close the last page, still breathing in your ear: Dare me."

Susanna Moore
"Megan Abbott's brilliant new book presents a number of possibilities-the mysterious and the erotic, as well as the inevitable and paradoxical lessons of girlhood-with such illumination that the joyful terrors of adolescence were once again present in me. Abbott's characters, confronted with unaccustomed questions and strange, new difficulties, remind us that the loss of innocence can, if we are fortunate, emerge into a lustrous wisdom."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316097772
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 7/31/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film at NYU, the New School, and SUNY-Oswego. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Dare Me

A Novel
By Megan Abbott

Reagan Arthur Books

Copyright © 2012 Megan Abbott
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316097772

Prologue

“Something happened, Addy. I think you better come.”

The air is heavy, misted, fine. It’s coming on two a.m. and I’m high up on the ridge, thumb jammed against the silver button: 27-G.

“Hurry, please.”

The intercom zzzzzz-es and the door thunks, and I’m inside.

As I walk through the lobby, it’s still buzzing, the glass walls vibrating.

Like the tornado drill in elementary school, Beth and me wedged tight, jeaned legs pressed against each other. The sounds of our own breathing. Before we all stopped believing a tornado, or anything, could touch us, ever.

“I can’t look. When you get here, please don’t make me look.”

In the elevator, all the way up, my legs swaying beneath me, 1-2-3-4, the numbers glow, incandescent.

The apartment is dark, one floor lamp coning halogen up in the far corner.

“Take off your shoes,” she says, her voice small, her wishbone arms swinging side to side.

We’re standing in the vestibule, which seeps into a dining area, its lacquer table like a puddle of ink.

Just past it, I see the living room, braced by a leather sectional, its black clamps tightening, as if across my chest.

Her hair damp, her face white. Her head seems to go this way and that way, looking away from me, not wanting to give me her eyes.

I don’t think I want her eyes.

“Something happened, Addy. It’s a bad thing.”

“What’s over there?” I finally ask, gaze fixed on the sofa, the sense that it’s living, its black leather lifting like a beetle’s sheath.

“What is it?” I say, my voice lifting. “Is there something behind there?”

She won’t look, which is how I know.

First, my eyes falling to the floor, I see a glint of hair twining in the weave of the rug.

Then, stepping forward, I see more.

“Addy,” she whispers. “Addy…is it like I thought?”

1

Four Months Ago

After a game, it takes a half hour under the showerhead to get all the hairspray out. To peel off all the sequins. To dig out that last bobby pin nestled deep in your hair.

Sometimes you stand under the hot gush for so long, looking at your body, counting every bruise. Touching every tender place. Watching the swirl at your feet, the glitter spinning. Like a mermaid shedding her scales.

You’re really just trying to get your heart to slow down.

You think, This is my body, and I can make it do things. I can make it spin, flip, fly.

After, you stand in front of the steaming mirror, the fuchsia streaks gone, the lashes unsparkled. And it’s just you there, and you look like no one you’ve ever seen before.

You don’t look like anybody at all.

At first, cheer was something to fill my days, all our days.

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.”

Coach said that once, one fall afternoon long ago, sharp leaves whorling at our feet.

But she said it not like someone’s mom or a teacher or the principal or worst of all like a guidance counselor. She said it like she knew, and understood.

All those misty images of cheerleaders frolicking in locker rooms, pom-poms sprawling over bare bud breasts. All those endless fantasies and dirty boy-dreams, they’re all true, in a way.

Mostly it’s noisy and sweaty, it’s the roughness of bruised and dented girl bodies, feet sore from floor pounding, elbows skinned red.

But it is also a beautiful, beautiful thing, all of us in that close, wet space, safer than in all the world.

The more I did it, the more it owned me. It made things matter. It put a spine into my spineless life and that spine spread, into backbone, ribs, collarbone, neck held high.

It was something. Don’t say it wasn’t.

And Coach gave it all to us. We never had it before her. So can you blame me for wanting to keep it? To fight for it, to the end?

She was the one who showed me all the dark wonders of life, the real life, the life I’d only seen flickering from the corner of my eye. Did I ever feel anything at all until she showed me what feeling meant? Pushing at the corners of her cramped world with curled fists, she showed me what it meant to live.

There I am, Addy Hanlon, sixteen years old, hair like a long taffy pull and skin tight as a rubber band. I am on the gym floor, my girl Beth beside me, our cherried smiles and spray-tanned legs, ponytails bobbing in sync.

Look at how my eyes shutter open and closed, like everything is just too much to take in.

I was never one of those mask-faced teenagers, gum lodged in mouth corner, eyes rolling and long sighs. I was never that girl at all. But I knew those girls. And when she came, I watched all their masks peel away.

We’re all the same under our skin, aren’t we? We’re all wanting things we don’t understand. Things we can’t even name. The yearning so deep, like pinions over our hearts.

So look at me here, in the locker room before the game.

I’m brushing the corner dust, the carpet fluff from my blister-white tennis shoes. Home-bleached with rubber gloves, pinched nose, smelling dizzyingly of Clorox, and I love them. They make me feel powerful. They were the shoes I bought the day I made squad.

2

Football Season

Her first day. We all look her over with great care, our heads tilted. Some of us, maybe me, even fold our arms across our chests.

The New Coach.

There are so many things to take in, to consider and set on scales, tilted always toward scorn. Her height, barely five-four, pigeon-toed like a dancer, body drum-tight, a golden collarbone popping, forehead high.

The sharp edges of her sleek bob, if you look close enough, you can see the scissor slashes (did she have it cut this morning, before school? she must’ve been so eager), the way she holds her chin so high, treats it like a pointer, turning this way and that, watching us. And most of all her striking prettiness, clear and singing, like a bell. It hits us hard. But we will not be shaken by it.

All of us, slouching, lolling, pockets and hands chirping and zapping—how old u think? looka the whistle, WTF—the texts flying back and forth from each hiccupping phone. Not giving her anything but eyes glazed, or heads slung down, attending to important phone matters.

How hard it must be for her.

But standing there, back straight like a drill officer, she’s wielding the roughest gaze of all.

Eyes scanning the staggered line, she’s judging us. She’s judging each and every one. I feel her eyes shred me—my bow legs, or the flyaway hairs sticking to my neck, or the bad fit of my bra, me twisting and itching and never as still as I want to be. As she is.

“Fish could’ve swallowed her whole,” Beth mutters. “You could’ve fit two of her in Fish.”

Fish was our nickname for Coach Templeton, the last coach. The one plunked deep in late middle age, with the thick, solid body of a semi-active porpoise, round and smooth, and the same gold post earrings and soft-collared polo shirt and sneakers thick-soled and graceless. Hands always snugged around that worn spiral notebook of drills penciled in fine script, serving her well since the days when cheerleaders just dandled pom-poms and kicked high, high, higher. Sis-boom-something.

Her hapless mouth slack around her whistle, Fish spent most of her hours at her desk, playing spider solitaire. We’d spot, through the shuttered office window, the flutter of cards overturning. I almost felt sorry for her.

Long surrendered, Fish was. To the mounting swagger of every new class of girls, each bolder, more coil-mouth insolent than the last.

We girls, we owned her. Especially Beth. Beth Cassidy, our captain.

I, her forever-lieutenant, since age nine, peewee cheer. Her right hand, her fidus Achates. That’s what she calls me, what I am. Everyone bows to Beth and, in so doing, to me.

And Beth does as she pleases.

There really wasn’t any need for a coach at all.

But now this. This.

Fish was suddenly reeled away to gladed Florida to care for her teenage granddaughter’s unexpected newborn, and here she is.

The new one.

The whistle dangles between her fingers, like a charm, an amulet, and she is going to have to be reckoned with.

There is no looking at her without knowing that.

“Hello,” she says, voice soft but firm. No need to raise it. Instead, everyone leans forward. “I’m Coach French.”

And you ma bitches, the screen on my phone flashes, phone hidden in my palm. Beth.

“And I can see we have a lot to do,” she says, eyes radaring in on me, my phone like a siren, a bull’s-eye.

I can feel it still buzzing in my hand, but I don’t look at it.

There’s a plastic equipment crate in front of her. She lifts one graceful foot under the crate’s upper lip and flips it over, sending floor-hockey pucks humming across the shiny floor.

“In here,” she says, kicking the crate toward us.

We all look at it.

“I don’t think we’ll all fit,” Beth says.

Coach, face blank as the backboard above her, looks at Beth.

The moment is long, and Beth’s fingers squeak on her phone’s pearl flip.

Coach does not blink.

The phones, they drop, all of them. RiRi’s, Emily’s, Brinnie Cox’s, the rest. Beth’s last of all. Candy-colored, one by one into the crate. Click, clack, clatter, a chirping jangle of bells, birdcalls, disco pulses, silencing at last upon itself.

After, there’s a look on Beth’s face. Already I see how it will go for her.

“Colette French,” she smirks. “Sounds like a porn star, a classy one who won’t do anal.”

“I heard about her,” Emily says, still giddy-breathless from the last set of motion drills. All our legs are shaking. “She took the squad at Fall Wood all the way to state Semis.”

“Semis. Semi. Fucking. Epic,” Beth drones. “Be the dream.”

Emily’s shoulders sink.

None of us really cheer for glory, prizes, tourneys. None of us, maybe, know why we do it at all, except it is like a rampart against the routine and groaning afflictions of the school day. You wear that jacket, like so much armor, game days, the flipping skirts. Who could touch you? Nobody could.

My question is this:

The New Coach. Did she look at us that first week and see past the glossed hair and shiny legs, our glittered brow bones and girl bravado? See past all that to everything beneath, all our miseries, the way we all hated ourselves but much more everyone else? Could she see past all of that to something else, something quivering and real, something poised to be transformed, turned out, made? See that she could make us, stick her hands in our glitter-gritted insides and build us into magnificent teen gladiators?

3

Week One

It isn’t immediate. No head-knocking conversion.

But with each day that week, the New Coach continues to hold our interest—a feat.

We let her drill us, we run tumbles. We show her all our routines and we keep our claps tight and our roundoffs smooth.

Then we show her our most heralded routine, the one we ended last basketball season with, lots of chorus line flips and toe touches and a big finish where we all pop Beth up into a straddle sit, her arms V-split above her head.

Coach seems almost to be watching, her foot perched on top of the crunking boom box.

Then she asks us what else we got.

“But everyone loved that number,” peeps Brinnie Cox. “They had us do it again at graduation.”

We all want Brinnie to shut up.

Coach, she’s just tighter, fleeter than we’d expected, and that first week, we take notice. Planted in front of us, her body held so lightly but so surely.

We can’t fluster her, and we are surprised.

We can fluster everyone, not just Fish but the endless sad parade of straw-man subs, dusty-shouldered geometry teachers and crepey-skinned guidance counselors.

Let’s face it, we’re the only animation in the whole drop-ceiling, glass-bricked tomb of a school. We’re the only thing moving, breathing, popping.

And we know it. You can feel that knowingness on us.

Look at them, that’s what we can hear them—everyone—say when, Game Day, we stride the hallways, pack-like, our ponytails rocking, our skirts like diamonds.

Who do they think they are?

But we know just who we are.

Just like Coach knows who she is. It’s in the click and tap of both her aloofness and nerve. So unconcerned with our nonsense. Bored with it. A boredom we know.

Right off, she won something there, even if—or because—she didn’t ask for it, care about it. Not because she’s bored but because we’re not interesting enough for her.

Not yet, at least.

The second day, she takes a piece of Emily’s flab in her fingers. Pixie-eyed, apple-breasted Emily lifts her arms languorously above her head in an epic yawn. Oh, we know this routine, this routine which so provokes Mrs. Dieterle and makes Mr. Callahan turn red and cross his legs.

Coach’s hand appears out of nowhere and reaches for the spot laid bare by Emily’s tank top lifted high. She plucks the baby fat there and twists it, hard. So hard Emily’s mouth gives a little pop. The gasp, like a squeeze toy.

“Fix it,” Coach says, eyes lifting from the skin between her fingers to Emily’s stricken eyes.

Fix it. Just like that.

Fix it? Fix it? Emily, sobbing in the locker room after, and Beth rolling her eyes, her head, her neck in annoyed circles.

“She can’t say things like that, can she?” Emily wails.

Emily whose balloony breasts and hip-cascades are the joy of all the boys, their ga-ga throats stretched to follow her gait, to stretch around corridor corners just to see that cheer skirt dance.

All those posters and PSAs and health class presentations on body image and the way you can burst blood vessels in your face and rupture your esophagus if you can’t stop ramming those sno balls down your throat every night, knowing they’ll have to come back up again, you sad weak girl.

Because of all this, Coach surely can’t tell a girl, a sensitive, body-conscious teenage girl, to get rid of the tender little tuck around her waist, can she?

She can.

Coach can say anything.

And there’s Emily, keening over the toilet bowl after practice, begging me to kick her in the gut so she can expel the rest, all that cookie dough and cool ranch, the smell making me roil. Emily, a girl made entirely of donut sticks, cheese powder, and haribo.

I kick, I do.

She would do the same for me.

Wednesday, Brinnie Cox says she might quit.

“I can’t do it,” she pules to Beth and me. “Did you hear my head hit the mat on the dismount? I think Mindy did it on purpose. It’s easy for a Base. Her body’s like a big chunk of rubber. We’re not trained for stunts.”

“That’s why we’re training for stunts,” I say. I know Brinnie would rather be pom-shaking, grinding, and ass-slapping during halftime, or all the time.

Brinnie’s the one Beth and I have always ridden the hardest, out of irritation. “I don’t like her big teeth or her chicken bone legs,” Beth would say. “Get her out of here.”

Once, practicing double hook jumps, Beth and I made loud comments across the gym about how Brinnie’s slutty sister got caught making out with the assistant custodian until Brinnie ran off to the far showers to cry.

“All I know is,” Brinnie lisps now, through those big teeth, “my head is killing me.”

“If you ruptured a blood vessel,” Beth replies, “you could be slowly bleeding inside your head.”

“You probably already have brain damage,” I add, eyeing her closely. “I’m sorry, but it’s true.”

“The blood may be squeezing your brain against the side of your skull,” Beth says, “which eventually will kill you.”

Brinnie’s eyes wide and wet and brimming, I know we have achieved our goal.

On the last day of that first week, Coach calls a special meeting.

There are anxious texts and phone calls. Talk of cuts to the squad and who might it be?

But her announcement is simple.

“There isn’t going to be a squad captain anymore,” she says, standing before us.

Everyone looks at Beth.

I’ve known Beth since second grade, since we braided our bodies together in sleeping bags at girl camp, since we first blood-brothered ourselves to each other. I know Beth and can read her every raised eyebrow, every toe pivot. She holds certain things—calculus, hall passes, her mother, stop signs—in a steely contempt that drives her hard.

Once, she dunked her mother’s toothbrush in the toilet, and she calls her father “the Mole,” though none of us can remember why, and there was that time she called our phys ed teacher a cunt, though no one could prove it.

But there are other things about her that not everyone knows.

She rides horses, has a secret library of erotic literature, is barely five feet tall and yet has the strongest legs I’ve ever seen.

I might also tell this: In eighth grade, no, summer after, at a beer party, Beth put her scornful little-girl mouth on Ben Trammel, you know where. I remember the sight. He was grinning, holding her head down, gripping her hair like he’d caught a trout with his bare hand, and everyone found out. I didn’t tell. People still talk about it. I don’t.

I never knew why she did it, or the other things she’s done since. I never asked, that’s not how we are.

We don’t judge.

The main thing about Beth, though, is this: she has always been our captain, my captain, even back in peewee, in junior high, then JV, and now the Big Leagues.

Beth has always been captain, and me her badass lieutenant, since the day she and I, after three weeks of flipping roundoffs together in her backyard, first made squad together.

She was born to it, and we never thought of cheer any other way.

Sometimes I think captain is the only reason Beth even comes to school, bothers with any of us, anything at all.

“I just don’t see any need for a captain. I don’t see what it’s gotten you,” Coach says, glance passing over Beth. “But thank you for your service, Cassidy.”

Hand me your badge, your gun.

Everyone pads their sneakers anxiously, and RiRi peers dramatically at Beth, arching her whole back to see her reaction.

But Beth gives no reaction.

Beth doesn’t seem to care at all.

Doesn’t even care enough to yawn.

“I was sure it’d be bad,” whispers Emily to me, doing jump squats in the locker room later. “Like when she got mad at that math sub and keyed his car.”

But, knowing Beth, I figure it will be some time before we see her true response.

“What’ll cheer be like now?” wonders Emily, lunging breathlessly, paring that body down to size. Fixing it. “What does it mean?”

What it means, we soon see, is no more hours whiled away talking about the lemonade diet and who had an abortion during summer break.

Coach has no interest in that, of course. She tells us we’d best get our act together.

End of that first week, new regime, our legs are loose and soft, our bodies flopping. Our moves less than tight. She says we look sloppy and juvenile, like Disney tweensters on a parade float. She is right.

And so it’s bleacher sprints for us.

Oh, to know such pain. Hammering up and down those bleacher steps to the pulse of her endless whistle. Twenty-one high steps and forty-three smaller steps. Again, again, again.

We can feel it in our shins the next day.

Our spines.

We can feel it everywhere.

Stairwell to hell, we call it, which Beth says is just bad poetry.

By Saturday practice, though, we’re already—some of us—starting to look forward to that pain, which feels like something real.

And we know we will get a lot better fast, and no injuries either because we’re running a tight routine.

4

Week Two

The bleacher sprints are punishing, and I feel my whole body shudderingpound-pound-pound—my teeth rattling, it is almost ecstatic—pound-pound-pound, pound-pound-pound—I feel almost like I might die from the booming pain of it—pound—I feel like my body might blow to pieces, and we go, go, go. I never want it to stop.

So different from before, all those days we spent our time nail painting and temp tattooing, waiting always for Cap’n Beth, who would show ten minutes before game time after smoking a joint with Todd Grinnell or gargling with peppermint schnapps behind her locker door and still dazzle us all by rocketing atop Mindy’s and Cori’s shoulders, stretching herself into an Arabesque.

Back then, we could hardly care, our moves so sloppy and weak. We’d just streak ourselves with glitter and straddle jump and shake our asses to Kanye. Everybody loved us. They knew we were sexy beyotches. It was enough.

Cheerutantes, that’s what they called us, the teachers.

Cheerlebrities, that’s what we called ourselves.

We spent our seasons prowling, a flocked flock, our ponytails the same length, our matching nfinity trainers, everything synchronous, eyelids gold-flecked, and no one could touch us.

But there was a sloth in it, I see now. A wayward itch, and sometimes even I would look at the other kids who filled the classrooms, the debaters and yearbook snappers and thick-legged girl-letes and the band girls swinging their battered violin cases, and wonder what it felt like to care so much.

Everything is different now.

Beth is tugging at her straw, the squeaking grating on me.

I should be home, drawing parabolas, and instead I’m in Beth’s car, Beth needing to get out of the house, to stop hearing her mother’s silky robe shushing down the hallway.

Beth and her mother, a pair of impalas, horns locked since Beth first started speaking, offered up her first cool retort.

“My daughter,” Mrs. Cassidy once slurred to me, slathering her neck with crème de la mer, “has been a delinquent since the day she was born.”

So I get in Beth’s car, thinking a drive might do some kind of soothing magic, like with a colicky baby.

“The test’s tomorrow,” I say, fingering my calc book.

“She lives on Fairhurst,” she says, ignoring me.

“Who?”

“French. The coach.”

“How do you know?”

Beth doesn’t even give me a shrug, has never, ever answered a question she didn’t feel like answering.

“You wanna see it? It’s pretty lame.”

“I don’t want to see it,” I say, but I do. Of course I do.

“This isn’t about the captain thing?” I say, very quiet, like not quite sure I want to say it aloud.

“What captain thing?” Beth says, not even looking at me.

The house on Fairhurst is not small. A ranch house, split level. It’s a house, what can I say? But there is something to it, okay. Knowing Coach is in there, behind the big picture window, the light tawny and soft, it seems like more.

There’s a tricycle in the driveway with streamers, pink and narrow, flittering in the night air.

“A little girl,” Beth says, cool-like. “She has a little girl.”

“Don’t think of a pyramid as a stationary object,” Coach tells us. “Don’t think of it as a structure at all. It’s a living thing.”

With Coach Fish, when we would do pyramids, we used to think of it as stacking ourselves. Building it layer by layer.

Now we are learning that the pyramid isn’t about girls climbing on top of each other and staying still. It’s about breathing something to life. Together. Each of us a singular organ feeding the other organs, creating something larger.

We are learning that our bodies are our own and they are the squad’s and that is all.

We are learning that we are the only people in the world when we are on the floor. We will wear our smiles, tight and meaningless, but inside, all we care for is Stunt. Stunt is all.

At the bottom, our hardcore Base girls, Mindy and Cori, my feet on Mindy’s shoulders, her body vibrating through mine, mine vibrating through Emily above me.

The Middle Bases in place, the Flyer rises not by climbing, not by being lifted, it’s not a staircase, a series of tedious steps. No, we bounce and swing to bring everyone up, and the momentum makes you realize you are part of something. Something real.

“A pyramid is a body, it needs blood and beats and heat. ONE, TWO, THREE. What keeps it up, what keeps it alive is the bounding of your bodies, the rhythm you build together. With each count, you are becoming one, you are creating life. FOUR, FIVE, SIX.”

And I feel Mindy beneath me, the sinew of her, we are moving as one person, we are bringing Beth up and she is part of us too, and her blood shooting through me, her heart pounding with mine. The same heart.

“The only moment the pyramid is still is when you make it still,” Coach says. “All your bodies one body, and you DO NOT MOVE. You are marble. You are stone.

“And you won’t move because you won’t be able to, because you’re not that hot chick bouncing down the hallway, that ponytail-swinging girl, mouth filled with nothings. You’re not pretty, you’re not cute young things, you’re not a girl at all, not even a person. You’re the most vital part of one thing, the perfect thing. Until, SEVEN, EIGHT, and…

“We blow it all apart.”

After, our bodies spent, our limbs slick, we query her.

Sweatless and erect, she looks down at our wasted loins, water bottles rolling over our chests and foreheads.

“Coach, where’d you go to high school?” one of us asks.

“Coach, what’s your husband like?”

“Coach, is that your car in the faculty lot, or your husband’s?”

We try every day, most of us. The information comes slow, wriggling out. She’d gone to school over in Stony Creek, her husband works in a mirrored office tower downtown, and he bought her the car. Barely information at all. As little as she can share and still share something.

So focused, so intent, she’ll only answer questions when we’ve done our sprints, our bridge bends, our hundreds of searing crunches, backs sliding, squeaking on the floor.

That prettiness, that bright-beaming prettiness she wears almost like a shameful thing, a flounce she keeps pulling tight, a tinkling charm she stills under her hand.

It’s when she’s walking away from us, it’s when she’s dismissed us that RiRi calls out, “Hey Coach, hey, Co-o-ach. What’s that on your ankle?”

The tattoo creeps above her running anklet, a violet blur.

She doesn’t even turn her head, you wouldn’t even know she heard.

“Coach, what is it?”

“A mistake,” she says. That hard little voice of hers. A mistake.

Ah, steel-strung coach with a reckless past, a bawdy past.

“Bet we find her in an old episode of Girls Gone Wild: The Prehistoric Years.” That’s Beth, of course. On Emily’s laptop. Beth typing Coach’s name into YouTube, bottom-trawling.

She doesn’t find anything. Somehow I knew she wouldn’t. Someone that steely-strung, there’s nothing you could find.

After practice, dwindling Emily, back flat on the locker room linoleum, curls her stomach upon herself over and over, fighting to get tighter, to whittle herself down to Coach specs. I stay with her, hold her feet down, keep her pudged ankles from swiveling.

And it turns out Coach hasn’t left either. She’s in her office, talking on the phone. We see her through the glass, opening and closing the blinds, hand coiled around the plastic wand. Staring out the window to the parking lot. Open, shut, open, shut.

When she hangs up, she opens the office door. The shush of the door swinging open, and it’s beginning.

She opens the door and sees us, and the nod of her head, permitting entry.

The office smells like smoke, like the sofa in the teachers’ lounge with that hard stain in the sunken center. Everybody has a story about that stain.

There’s a picture on her desk of her little girl. Coach says her name is Caitlin and she’s four years old with a bleary mouth and flushed skin and eyes that glaze so dumbly I wonder how does anyone have kids.

“She’s so cute,” spurts Emily. “Like a doll or something.”

Like a doll, or something.

Coach looks at the photo, like she’s never seen it before. She squints.

“They get mad at me, at day care,” she says, like she’s thinking about it. “I’m always the last one to pick up. The last mom, at least.”

She puts down the photo and looks at us.

“I remember those,” she says, nodding at the flossy bracelets banding up and down our forearms.

She tells us she made them when she was a kid and she can’t believe they’re popular again. Friendship bracelets, she calls them. But we would never call them that.

“They’re just bracelets,” I say.

She looks at me, lighting a cigarette with a twiggy old match, like the man who sells us jugs of wine out of the back of his store on Shelter Road.

“We called this ‘Snake around the Pole,’” she says, lifting the one on Emily’s wrist with a crooking finger, her cigarette flaring.

“That’s a Chinese Staircase,” I say. I don’t know why I keep correcting her.

“What’s that one?” she says, poking at my wrist, the cigarette tip flush on my skin.

I stare at it, and at Coach’s cool tanned finger.

“A Love-Me-Knot.” Emily grins. “That’s the easy one. I know who made you that.”

I don’t say anything.

Coach looks at me. “Guys don’t make these.”

“They sure don’t,” Emily says, and you can almost see her tongue flicking.

“I don’t even know who gave it to me,” I say.

But then I remember it was Casey Jaye, this girl I tumbled with at cheer camp last summer, but Beth didn’t like her and camp ended anyway. Funny how people you know at camp can seem so close and then the summer’s over and you never see them again at all.

Coach has her eyes on me, and there’s a shadow of a dimple in the corner of her mouth.

“Show me,” she says, poking out her cigarette. “Show me how to love-knot.”

I say I don’t have any of the thread, but Emily does, at the bottom of her hobo bag.

We show her how to do it, then watch her twist the strands, to and fro. She picks it up so fast, her fingers flying. I wonder if there’s anything she can’t do.

“I remember,” she says. “Watch this one.”

She shows us how to make one called Cat’s Tongue, which is like a Broken Ladder crossed with a simple braid, and another she calls the Big Bad that I can’t follow at all.

When she finishes Big Bad, she twirls it on her finger and flings it at me. I see Emily’s face flicker jealously.

“Is this all you guys do for fun?” she says.

And no, it’s not.

* * *

“It was like she was really interested in our lives,” Emily tells everyone after, her fingers whisking across my new bracelet.

“Pathetic,” Beth says. “I’m not even interested in our lives.” Her finger slips under the bracelet and tug-tug-tugs until it snaps from my wrist.

The next day, after school, the parking lot, I see Coach walking to her sprightly little silver crawler of a car.

I’m loitering, fingers hooked around my diet soda bottle, waiting on Beth, who is my ride and occasionally sees fit to make me wait while she talks up Mr. Feck, who gives her reams of pink fluttery hall passes from his desk drawer.

I don’t even realize Coach has seen me until she beckons, her head snapping toward her open door.

“Well c’mon then,” she says. “Get in.”

As if she knows I’ve been waiting for the invitation.

Driving, Coach is shaking one of those strange, muddy-looking juices she’s always drinking, raw against your teeth. I don’t think any of us have ever seen her eat.

“You girls have lots of bad habits,” she says, eyeing my soda.

“It’s diet,” I say, but she just keeps shaking her head.

“We’ll get you right. The days of funyuns for lunch and tanning beds—they’re over, girl.”

“Okay,” I say, but I must not look convincing. First of all, I’ve never eaten a funyun in my life.

“You’ll see,” she says. Her neck and back so straight, her eyebrows tweezed to precise arches. The glint-gold tennis bracelet and shine-sleek hair. She is so perfect.

“So, which one of those footballers is your guy?” Coach asks, staring out the window.

“What?” I say. “None of them.”

“No boyfriend?” She sits up a little. “Why not?”

“There’s not a lot to interest me at Sutton Grove High,” I say, like Beth might say. I’m eyeing the cigarette pack on the console between us, imagining myself plucking one and putting it in my mouth. Would she stop me?

“Tell me,” she says. “Who’s the guy with all the curls?” She taps her forehead. “And the crook in his nose?”

“On the team?” I ask.

“No,” she says, leaning forward toward the steering wheel a little. “I see him run track in those high-tops with the skulls.”

“Jordy Brennan?” I say.

There was a group: ten, twelve guys you might loiter with, might lap-shimmy, beer-breathed at parties, might letter-jacket him for a week, a month.

Jordy Brennan wasn’t one of them. He was just there, barely. Scarcely a blip on the screen of my school.

“I never thought of him,” I say.

“He’s cute,” she says. The way she breathes in, turning the wheel, you can feel her thinking all about Jordy Brennan, for just that second.

And then I think of him too.

My shirt scraping up my back, the nervy-hot hands of Jordy skittering there, and before I know it, my cheer skirt twisting ’round my waist, nudging up my belly, his hands there too, and mine coiled into little nerve-balls, and am I going to do it?

This is in my head, these thoughts, as I rustle under my Sutton green coverlet in bed that night. I’ve never had it happen like that before, a sharp ache down there, right there, and a put-put-put pulse, so breathless.

Jordy Brennan, who I never blinked at twice.

After, I’m about to call Beth for our nightly postmortem, but then I decide not to.

I think she’ll be mad at me for not waiting for her after school. Or for something else. She is mad at me a lot, especially since last summer at cheer camp, when things started to change with us. I grew tired of all my lieutenant duties, and her no-prisoners ways, and I started stunting with other girls at camp. It goes deep with Beth and me. Our history is long and lashes us tight.

So I call Emily instead and talk with her for an hour or more about basket tosses and her shin splints and the special rainforest wax Brinnie Cox bought in Bermuda to tear off all her girl hair.

Anything but boys and Coach. My head a hot, clicking thing. I want to quiet it. I want to hush, hush it and I hold my legs together, tense as pincer grips, and clutch my stomach upon itself. I listen endlessly to Emily’s squeaking voice, the way it sputters and pipes and dances lightfoot and never, ever says anything at all.

5

Week Three

We’re getting better all the time.

We are all locking stunts, focusing. Emily nailed her standing back handspring, which we never thought she would, with those soft-rise breasts she once had. We are stronger and we are learning how to feel each other’s bodies, to know when we will not fall.

Nights, in bed, I hear the thuds on the gym floor, feel that thud through my bones, through the center of me.

Already I can feel my muscles thrusting under my skin. I even start eating because if I don’t, my head goes soft. The first week, I pass out twice in calc, the second time hitting my head SMACK on the edge of a desk.

Can’t have that, Coach says.

“You can’t slap the treadmill before school and then expect to make it to lunch on your a.m. diet coke,” Coach says, coming at me in the nurse’s office. Charging in with such purpose, making even lumberjack-chested Nurse Vance, twice her size, jump back.

Her hands are riffling through my purse, thwacking the bag of sugar-free jolly ranchers at my chest.

I’m meant to throw them away, which I do, fast.

“Don’t worry,” Coach says. “No one gets fat on my watch.”

So I start with the egg whites and almonds and the spinach, like wilting lily pads between my teeth. It’s so boring, not like eating at all because you don’t feel the sweet grit on your tongue all day and night, singing on the edge of your teeth.

But my body is tight-tight-tightening. Hard and smooth, like hers, my waist pared down to nothing, like hers.

The walk, her walk, feet planted out, like a ballerina. I wonder if Coach was a ballerina once, her hair pulled into a fierce dark bun, collarbones poking.

We all do the walk.

Not Beth, though, and not some of the girls, like Tacy Slaussen, who cotton more to Beth’s dusky glower, the way she hitches her cheer skirt low, the way she slinks over to the freshman squad, perched in the stands to watch us. The way she reaches up and yanks the pom off one of the girl’s socks and sinks it purposefully into the bottom of her plastic coke cup.

This is what Beth does, while some of us make ourselves hard and beautiful.

Jordy Brennan, fleet around the track, a soft tangle of cord skimming from his earbuds.

I watch him four days in a row, under the bleachers, my wrist wrapped around one of the underhangs, fingers clenching and unclenching.

“You got a thing for deviated septums, Addy-Faddy?” Beth asks.

“I don’t know,” I say, scratching my palms.

“What’s the story, anyway?” she says. “He’s dull as a plank of wood.” She pings the bleacher post, which is actually aluminum.

“He looks like he’s thinking things,” I say, jumping a little on my toes, feeling like some dumb cheerleader. “Like maybe he actually thinks about things.”

“Deep thoughts,” Beth says, pulling her ponytail tight, “about puma treads.”

I didn’t tell her what Coach said, somehow didn’t want her to know Coach had even given me a ride home.

Beth floats forward from the bleacher skeleton and lingers on the edge of the track.

He’s pounding toward us, the huff-huff rattling in me, jolting between my hips.

“Jordy Brennan,” Beth shouts, voice deep and clear. “Come here.”

There’s a rollicking in my chest as he slows to stop just past us, then does an about-face and slows to a cool-man stride as he makes his way over.

“Yeah,” he says, up close his eyes green and blank as poker felt.

“Jordy Brennan,” Beth says, throwing her cigarette on the ground. “It’s your lucky day.”

Fifteen minutes later, the three of us drifting along in his pocked Malibu, Beth directs Jordy to the convenience store on Royston Road, the place where the football players all buy their beer from the grim-faced man behind the counter, extra five-dollar charge just for the plastic bag.

We take the 40s, which I never like, all warm and sour by the time you get halfway in, and the three of us drive up to Sutton Ridge, where that girl jumped last spring.

Seventeen and brokenhearted, she jumped.

RiRi saw the whole thing, from Blake Barnett’s car.

Right before, RiRi saw a screech owl burst from behind the water tank.

Her eyes lifted, so did Blake’s, to the top of the rutted ridge. A place haunted by ruined Indians, or so we heard as kids spooking on Halloween. Apache maidens swan-diving over lost love for white men who abandoned them.

Together, RiRi and Blake watched.

Blake recognized the girl from St. Reggie’s, and nearly shouted out to her, but didn’t.

Arms stretched wide, her hands strangely spinning, and walking backwards fast.

RiRi watched it, the whole thing.

She said it was terrible and kinda beautiful.

I bet it was, jumping from so high, so very high, into the dark plush of that grieving ravine.

All us girls might look down into that same gorge on nights steeped in the sorrows of womanhood. I never felt so much, but looking now, I thought I might yet.

Beth walks up extra high on the ridge, swinging her 40 with surprising grace, and Jordy ducks his big boy head against me and kisses me smearily for a half hour or more.

He tells me this is a special spot for him.

At nights sometimes he runs up here, playing his music and forgetting everything.

“Maybe,” he says, “that’s how cheerleading is for you.”

Then, he ripples his hands up and down me, gentle and with those great empty eyes of his shut tight, lashes long like a girl’s. That funny way his nose bends slightly right, like a boxer’s.

“Isn’t she pretty, Jordy?” I hear Beth’s rippling voice from somewhere, “when she looks into your eyes?”

I rest my lips on his cheekbone, near the crook of his nose, and he shudders.

The way his eyelashes tickle, and his hard heavy boy hands, grave and turbulent, I can feel all kinds of wonder and surprises charging through him.

All of this moves me, powerfully, and the day feels rare, the dusk falling purple, and I must be drunk because I think I hear Beth’s voice far away, saying crazy things, asking me if I feel different, and loved.

Jordy Brennan’s name buzzes on my phone that night, a spare text with “u”s and “r”s and cautious wonderings. But the thing that was there, the feeling huddling in me at the gorge, is already gone.

His wanting, so easily won—well, it bores me. I know every flex and twist of it, because there are no flexes and twists to it.

And instead I want to see Coach again, and tell her about it. I wonder what she’ll say.

Beth calls after, and we have a long-winding talk, the 40-ouncers still heavy on us both.

She is asking if I remember how we used to hang on the monkey bars, hooking our legs around each other, and how strong we got and how no one could ever beat us, and we could never beat each other, but we’d agree to each release our hands at the count of three, and that she always cheated, and I always let her, standing beneath, looking up at her and grinning my gap-toothed, pre-​orthodontic grin.

Such reminiscence is unlike Beth, but she is drunk and I think she may still be drinking, her mother’s V.S.O.P., and she sounds affected by our time at the gorge, and possibly by other things.

“I hate how everything changes, always,” she says. “But you don’t.”

In the parking lot the next day, Coach tilts her head and gives me a whisper of a smile.

Wanting to present this to her, I feel a funny kind of pride. Like she’d asked me to do a stunt for her, “Give me that pop cradle, Addy. Straight up, straight up—” and there I am, legs arrow-piked, and the feeling when my feet land on that hard floor, the fearsome quake through my ankles, legs, hips.

So I tell her, my hand sweeping across my mouth, like I can barely say it. Just messed around a little. Jordy Brennan. Jordy Brennan. Just like you said.



Continues...

Excerpted from Dare Me by Megan Abbott Copyright © 2012 by Megan Abbott. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

BN—Q&A with Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me

What led you to write about high school cheerleading?
In my last book, The End of Everything, one of the characters, Dusty, is a star field hockey player and there's a few scenes where we see her playing, with everything she's got. Doing a little research, I became very interested in how the sport can be a powerful outlet for many girls—a place they can express the feeling they're not necessarily supposed to have: ambition, competitiveness, aggression. It made me want to tell a story about those feelings in young girls—feelings we're so much more comfortable seeing expressed in boys. Then, I came upon some footage of high school cheerleading and I was transfixed, utterly hooked. These girls, with their smiles and sunny appearances, are literally tossing each other in the air, diving from heights, pushing their bodies beyond gravity. And loving it. That's when I knew I had to write the book.

It also interests me how much, for adult women, the question of whether or not you were a cheerleader (or wanted to be) is this huge divider. It seems to say something about ourselves, though maybe we're not sure what. It has this heavy cultural weight attached to it.

Dare Me has been called "Fight Club for girls," but the traditional image of cheerleaders is more glitter and pom-poms. What is modern cheerleading really like?
In my high school days, cheer was just that—hip-shaking, pom-pom waving. But today it's intensely competitive and the most dangerous high school sport. These girls are true athletes and take alarming risks with their stunts— leaping off of pyramids stacked 15 feet high. All the crazy-braze attributes we might more commonly think of high school footballers, or even boxers, or soldiers. And yet these girls still "look" the part of the All-American Girl—ponytails swinging, all the glitter and bows. But when they get out there on the gym floor, they are true warriors. Fiercely competitive, with other squads and with each other. It's both empowering (they get to focus on their own achievements, they get to be leaders) and terrifying (they seem to thrive on the risk and become addicted to it).

In other words, cheerleading seems to take all the struggles and beauty and pain of female adolescence and magnifies it by 1,000. I watch these girls and I am in awe, and frightened for them at the same time.

This is your second novel about adolescent girls. What is it that draws you to these characters at this moment in their lives?
I think many of us are still pretty uncomfortable with looking at some of the darker feelings of girls at that age—desire, aggression, jealousy. They just don't suit our ideas of girlhood. But whenever I look at YA, from my era and today, I see all the darkness of girl-adolescence there. From Flowers in the Attic to Hunger Games. That tremendous schism between how we want to think about girls and how girls really are (or how we were as girls, which maybe we want to forget) is such rich terrain.

Also, adolescence is the age at which we truly "make" ourselves or let ourselves be made by others. Our friendships, rivalries, crushes, humiliations—they all form us, and with an intensity you never get at any other age. The "bigness" of life for young girls (or boys) is irresistible to me.

And better to write about it than to live it—I think it's the hardest age of all and I'd never do it over again.

Coach French's actions are often questionable, but the girls idolize her anyway. Did you have a similar role model growing up?
Mentors can be so powerful. When I was very young, maybe fourth grade, there was a young teacher's aide all we girls adored. I remember going with another friend to the drugstore and buying a tiny gold ring to give her for her birthday. And how kind she was to act as those it were a precious gem from Tiffany's. It's like having a crush, because you just want to be like them so desperately, you crave their attention, it all matters so much. And then there's that momene you realize, as you always do, that you don't mean half as much to them. They have whole lives independent of you that have to matter more to them. What a disillusioning moment. And an important one. I guess we have to let these role models go to become ourselves.

And cheerleading coaches are a particular fascinating example. They're often just ten years older than their squad members, so the relationship becomes even more complex. They are almost peers, almost competitors. The risk of betrayal on both sides is palpable. Even inevitable. You have to overthrow the king to become a king yourself.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 39 )
Rating Distribution

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(13)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 31, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Will keep you up reading!

    Addy Hanlon and her best friend Beth Cassidy rule their cheer squad; Beth as captain and Addy her lieutenant. The squad doesn’t just look up to them—their afraid of them. But when Colette French walks into the gym and takes over as cheer coach everything gets flipped around. Coach French has every intention of taking her girls to regionals and she needs to get them ready. First things first she dethrones the cheer captain.

    Beth seems to lose interest in cheer and begins running more wild than usual. Addy is preoccupied running after Coach. The girls are getting stronger and better at cheer. The coach starts having them over for late night drinking parties. Coach French begins turning her attention to Addy. She begins entrusting her talking to her like she was an adult girlfriend instead of a girl on her cheer squad.

    Addy's new bff seems to be Coach French. But we haven't seen the last of Beth. She's been watching and waiting in the wings. Coach French thought she could take away her captain's position on the squad? Beth wants Coach to pay for what she's done.

    As the girls prepare for the game of their high school cheer career, there is a suicide. Addy finds herself right in the middle of it all. Entangled in a web of lies.

    Dare Me is filled with sex, lies, alcohol, eating disorders and brimming with teenage angst, but that’s just the first few chapters!

    I have to admit it took me a few pages to connect with first person, Addy. I’ve read a number of books with a teenage protagonist, but the authenticity of Addy’s voice was dead on—I felt like this is how my teenage daughter or her friends would think! Not only did Abbott nail it with the voice, but with Addy’s perspective. Addy seems obsessed with her new coach, she wants to replace coach with her best friend Beth.

    And Coach! Coach French is an odd one. She seems to be someone who peeked in high school and isn’t ready for the grown-up world. The more I read it seemed like her dethroning of Beth had less to do with the squad and was more about replacing herself in Beth’s position. She didn't seem coach like, more like one of the girls.

    With each page I delved deeper into the dark world of high school. Parents turning a blind eye to what is going on with their kids and the kids being in such a rush to grow up.

    Suddenly, the story takes on a dark twist. I actually stopped counting how many times I put the book down in my lap and said, “holy—“ yeah, it’s that good! I really figured I knew where it was headed, I was wrong. Then I thought something else, yeah wrong again. I no longer knew who or what to believe! I just knew I couldn’t stop reading until everything was revealed.

    I thought it was an awesome book! Amazing! Loved it! Fresh, different and authentic! I recommend grabbing a glass of wine and get ready for a long night of reading!

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 31, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little gi

    Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of, or at least that’s what the old nursery rhyme claims, but it’s not the case with the cheerleaders in Megan Abbott’s wildly original Dare Me.

    Addy’s spent most of her life as Beth’s right-hand girl. Best friends since grade school, the two of them are inseparable. Beth is queen bee of the cheerleading squad, and Addy helps her keep the rest of the girls on the squad in check and humiliated as needed. That is, until Colette French, the new coach, arrives. Coach’s first order of business is to do away with the current pecking order, switching things up and ousting Beth as team captain. She’s determined to turn this squad of high-kicking, ass-shakers into a competitive team — competitive being the operative word. As the girls fall under Coach’s spell, Addy and the rest of the girls find their limits tested, their lives changed and their friendships threatened, culminating in a delicious murder mystery that will leave the reader turning pages well past their bedtime.

    I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Abbott’s books before Dare Me, but she definitely has a new fan. This book is addicting and written with such passion, the intensity practically jumps off the page and smacks you. Addy is our narrator and Ms. Abbott writes with such a deep POV, that you can’t help but feel every leap, shin splint, heartache and fear that pours out of Addy. All of the characters are rich and complex. I was totally grabbed by Coach French, and could totally understand why the girls wanted so badly to please her, even if she is a little messed up.

    The story moves at a wonderful pace and perfectly blends high school drama, intensity and an unexpected murder mystery that will keep you guessing. It’s also a deep character study into the needs, desires and complexities of teenage girls. When I first read that this was about cheerleaders, I wasn’t sure I would be interested, but the cheerleading aspect isn’t typical. These girls aren’t the group of cliché, vapid airheads shouting “Go-Fight-Win” while shaking their pom-poms and smacking bubblegum. Coach changes them into something much darker, and their intensity is both contagious and a little frightening. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    There are only few books with a great storyline. This was one of

    There are only few books with a great storyline. This was one of them. A great summer read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

    frothy girlmonster fever dream

    like fight club meets mean girls by way of bring it on (with a hint of the craft and flavors of the specifically feminine nastiness of a gillian flynn novel), if only fight club didn't blow.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2012

    Horrible! I read it all the way through just hoping that it woul

    Horrible! I read it all the way through just hoping that it would end up
    being a worthwhile read. Wrong! Don't waste your time or money. Plotline
    is nonsensical, and seriously, do we really need to read page after page
    about high school cheerleading routines?

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Girl noir

    One of the best books I've read all year.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 24, 2013

    Let's be clear from the get go. If you want a more traditional r

    Let's be clear from the get go. If you want a more traditional review with a book summary, plot synopsis, and a character family tree, and then possibly a discussion on what the author was trying to accomplish in DARE ME and whether or not she actually achieved her goals, then you'll probably just want to slide it on back and move on to the next review. Because I'm about as non-traditional as they come. Instead, I like discussing how a book made me feel, or didn't feel, discussing writing insights where appropriate, tossing around similes and metaphors like used car parts in a Dumpster, and talking about my overall experience with a book, while taking into account my own knowledge of writing and reading and plain old random crap. In other words, I don't really know what I'm doing, but I have a damn good time being ignorant.

    So I'll start with this: Teenage girls are evil and manipulative. A female praying mantis treats her mate better than high school girls treat each other. And each manages to accomplish this task with a smile on her face and nothing but love in her heart, right before she brings out the icepick and wields it around the same way a construction worker might employ a two-by-four in the middle of a construction zone.

    One might argue the mystery was a bit thin, but this book transcended the typical books in this genre, and proved there's more to a mystery than just the identity of the killer and the resolution of the crime. Instead, this was more about cheerleaders and their penchant to attack one another with vengeance, high school drama that unfolded before me on the page in pinks and purples and shades of red, and the extremes captains and coaches go to all in the name of victory. Yes, cheerleading is a sport, and in some parts of the country it's mentioned in the Sunday prayers along with football and your best friends Jim Bob and Clara Valentine.

    The shower scene in the girl's locker room at the beginning of this tale reminded me of all the times growing up that I would have practically handed over bodily organs to be given even a brief glimpse behind that steel curtain. But what made this story really click for me was the relationship between Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy, gal pals that dance a relationship tango better left choreographed to the professionals. And proves there's much more to a relationship than what's shown to the public.

    This tale was about as easy to swallow as cotton candy stuffed with razor blades, and now that I know what's behind the pom-poms I wish I could give it all back, since more knowledge isn't always the key to happiness, as this story aptly proves.

    Robert Downs
    Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Absolutely fantastic read.  I loved the characters, I loved the

    Absolutely fantastic read.  I loved the characters, I loved the plot, and I loved the writing style.  This is even better than Abbott's last book The End of Everything, which I also enjoyed.  Can't wait to read more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Watching a Train Wreck -- of the Teenage Variety

    I purchased this because it was on sale and the reviews were pretty good. About half way through I realized it reinforced how immature immature people are. And how uninteresting.

    Frankly I didn't believe much, if anything, of the characters behavior but I kept reading simply because I found them all so bizarre. And other than the two main "girls" everyone else was a cardboard cutout. Especially all the males.

    It's an easy and fast read so I didn't waste much time.

    I think it was about $4. Anything more would be highway robbery.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2013

    loved this book...

    I really liked this book - read it quickly. Amazed at the way it moved me - much more than a 'cheerleader' story...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    LOVED this book!!

    Very suspenseful and well written!! Could not put it down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    don't bother wasting your time on this

    Stupid!!!!! I read this as part of an online pen pal and both of us agreed that this was a horrible book. It's about a bunch of selfish high school cheerleaders who are supposed to be friends but treat each other like dirt. A new cheer coach joins and just makes it worse. One of the things I didn't understand was where in the world was the parents while these girls are stealing drugs, drinking, sleeping with Army requiters at their school, and just being stupid girls. I truly wish that I had not wasted my money on this filth.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 13, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Couldn't Stop Reading This Book !

    I just discovered author Megan Abbott about a month ago and have read several of her books already. Queenpin, Bury Me Deep, The Song is You.
    I am hooked on this woman's writing, and couldn't wait to read Dare Me.

    This is a different type of book from the three I mentioned. Doesn't take place in a different era, doesn't have that noir type of feel to it, yet it has that same desperate, nail biting feel to it.

    Once I started reading this book, I didn't want it to end. This is a gripping story and Megan Abbott knows how to amp up the story as she takes you into the world of Addy Hanlon. I don't want to go into specifics. Just read this book. You won't be disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2012

    Good

    Held my interest throughout, easy read, liked it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 21, 2012

    This is an extremely compelling book that i read very quickly.

    This is an extremely compelling book that i read very quickly. The
    writing is very good - the story line even better. I could not help
    thinking as I read this what a great movie it would make.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2012

    Great book

    Love it. Love her writing. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury

    According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, “for High School girls and college women, Cheerleading is far more dangerous than any other sport” (Live Science, 9/11/08). The rate of such injuries more than doubled from 1990 to 2002. For the members of the Cheer Squad captained by Beth Cassidy, there is less chance of being hurt by doing cheer “stunts” than by getting between Beth and Colette French the new Cheerleading coach. Beth “rules the roost” and she will do whatever it takes to assure her position at the top of this Girl Power pyramid.
    The story is told from the viewpoint of, and narrated by, Addy Hanlon. Beth’s life-long “Lieutenant.” Cheerleading is of such importance to her that name of the high school that exists so these girls can have a Cheerleading squad is inconsequential. Coach French’s appearance offers the possibility of the Squad to move from a bunch of girls who “just shake their a**es,” into a competitive team of athletes. Beth sees the threat to her power immediately. Coach French initially behaves as any professional sport coach would be expected to behave – driven, disciplined, hard-shelled; until many of the members, especially Addy, begin to see the progress they are making. At that point, the coach becomes part coach, part parent, part defiler of youth. All the women who make up this squad are “mean,” no one is exempt from the venom so easily and frequently sprayed and everyone is injured by the atmosphere created by the sport, the gender and, for this team, their leaders.  When a tragic event occurs, Beth is offered the opportunity to regain her place as “owner” of the Cheerleaders. Addy is caught between her loyalty: to her friend, her coach and her team. She is not innocent in any of the events which seem to envelope her, but neither is she party to the subterfuge that sparked those events. 
    The book shows the writing talent of Ms. Abbott. Her plotting, however, seemed forced and uneven. She does a good job of highlighting the feelings of tension, confusion, anger, angst and isolation experienced by Addy. The world she creates is largely parent free, which is a difficult point to comprehend. Addy and Beth are out all hours of the night, leave home whenever they want yet never are confronted by anyone, particularly someone in authority, for their behavior. They ingest various substances, most illegal (even if they were of age), rarely eat (or retain what they do swallow for more than 30 minutes) but have no ill-effects from such behavior. For athletes in training for the “Big Game” where “the Scout for regionals” will be in attendance, they show little commitment to staying healthy for that event. This undercurrent caused the story to be less believable and (I hope) less plausible. 
    The last 40 pages are the exception to the problems of the earlier pages. The ending is well done, having drawn the reader in an entirely different direction until The Moment when the curtain is lifted only high enough to see all the actors in the roles they played. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 17, 2013

    This book was very tough to get through! I think Abbott did a g

    This book was very tough to get through! I think Abbott did a good job of portraying how a teenager would think but it was hard to read. I did not like any of the characters but had to find out what happened so I did finish. Had I not been on vacation I would have set the book down and probably wouldn't have thought about it again.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2013

    It was okay.

    Strange style of writing. I could never really get into it. Storyline was not gripping until the end that's why I gave it 3 stars, otherwise it would have been 2 stars.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    Didnt love

    Plot was okay, characters seemed thrown together

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews

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