Who knew that the world of high school cheerleading could be so fascinating? Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a chilling tale that needs to be read in one sitting. Abby Hanlon is lieutenant to cheerleading captain Beth Cassidy. The two women are used to the status quo, the hierarchy of high school. Things change as their coach leaves and is replaced by Colette French, a young coach who begins to push the girls to their limits, turning them into champions. She gathers the young women into a cohesive unit, urging them to work together to go farther and fly higher. Colette presents herself as a mentor and a friend to the girls. She invites them to her house, often neglecting her husband and daughter. She supplies them with alcohol and berates them about weight issues. Colette sees no need for a team captain, which doesn’t sit well with Beth, who is used to being top dog. Beth becomes sullen and resentful, and Abby seems caught in the middle. Then an apparent suicide rocks the town, threatening to reveal squad secrets. A power struggle ensues that threatens to tear apart the squad, and the reader wonders who will survive the fallout.
Though the setting of Dare Me is high school, the intense theme makes it a book for older teens and adults. Abbott captures the cheerleading world perfectly. She describes the moves and tricks, the training, the blood, sweat and tears. She explores what happens when you are no longer accepted by the group, and the darkness and desperation of the human heart. Dare Me is a journey that is not easy, but once begun will need to be read to its intense conclusion.