Who knows better than “us girls” how cruel young women can be, especially to one another? Perhaps you remember, some years back, the mean and awful dealings amongst the ladies in books such as Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye.

Megan Abbott’s heart-stopping new novel, Dare Me, ups the ante on girl competition and angst, dropping readers into today’s high school milieu, complete with deceit and bullying, dangerously updated in high-tech fashion. Written in insistent, startling prose, the tense narrative excels at dramatic imagery as we step into a world where at times we wish we could avert our eyes. The reckless plot never lets up and will get under your skin.

Dare Me introduces readers to a group of elite, varsity cheerleaders who don’t seem to have anything truly useful to do with their toned, bulemic bodies except continue to abuse them. The hard-driving squad has a new coach, and her arrival unseats Beth, a student, from the top of the control echelon. The other girls fall under the spell of the calm and perfectionist Coach Colette French, who’s poised to challenge the team to a whole new level of gymnastic excellence.

Poised on the edge of beauty and darkness, Dare Me is a book you won’t soon forget.

What happens when this teenage hierarchy is thrown into disarray, and control slips from one person to another? Mix drinking, drugging and dieting with the high-tech communication devices these teens can’t escape, and you get a volatile and claustrophobic mix where chips are indeed going to fall. In a tightly constructed series of ominous scenes, Abbott produces a dark story that culminates in a disaster readers knew would occur, as cell phones vibrate back and forth like cunning, insistent hearts. 

And speaking of falling, what about the high-flying new 2-2-1 pyramid routine that Coach is training the girls for? Who will soar and who will fail? We’re left with the nagging, unanswered question of what exactly drives these young women, and what might give their lives a lighter hue. As it is, they badly want to be an organic part of their small, compact troupe. Coach urges them on: “A pyramid isn’t a stationary object. It’s a living thing. . . . The only moment it’s still is when you make it still, all your bodies one body, until … we blow it all apart.”

Poised on the edge of beauty and darkness, Dare Me is a book you won’t soon forget.

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