Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Dare Me.
Abbott dissects the private world of a cheer squad and the lifelong friendship of Beth Cassidy and Addy Hanlon, both sixteen and challenged by the arrival of new coach Colette French. The undisputed captain of the team, Beth has been the de facto ruler of the squad with Addy acting as her first lieutenant. Coach French provides the first chink in the status quo, Cassidy on notice that she is no longer top dog. The opening salvo of the war begins with Coach removing Cassidy as team captain, establishing her dominance over the girls in this particular arena. Only Addy is aware of Beth’s true reaction, a commitment to do battle hidden beneath the nonchalance of casual behavior, betrayed only in small acts of rebellion in the gym and during outside activities.
Addy knows Beth too well, conscious of her friend’s capacity for revenge and a sustained resistance that can only culminate in a showdown. Attempting to ameliorate Cassidy’s ire while straddling both sides of a growing emotional chasm, Addy finds herself drawn to the new coach, seduced by her professionalism and demand that the squad improve their performance. In a blur of glitter, hairspray, starving, purging, alcohol and drug-fueled exchanges, Abbott doesn’t sugarcoat the landscape of teenage angst, girls obsessed with image and the exclusivity of their position on campus, an elite group proud of their differences, happy to exploit their superiority. Unfortunately, Coach French gives Cassidy plenty of ammunition as Addy falls deeper under the woman’s spell, Beth determined to defeat her rival not only in the team’s eyes but also for Addy’s affection. The stakes are too high; Coach is a serious threat to Beth’s image and self-esteem.
Consumed with resentment, Cassidy surrenders her humanity to the pursuit of toppling the coach’s reputation. Addy vacillates between assumed complicity to decipher her friend’s next move and confusion over Coach’s compulsive choices in her private life. Events spiral out of control, tragedy the consequence of betrayal, the squad’s shock obscured by a miasma of female hormones, hairspray and perfume contaminated with sweat. In the precarious structure of a human pyramid and the risk of a bone-shattering plunge to the floor, the girls balance physical challenge for the sake of excellence with their own fears and insecurities, the careful apportionment of perfection betrayed by the ultimate treachery.
When the dust settles, Addy must assimilate the harsh lessons of her adoration for a coach with feet of clay, the dominance of her friendship with Cassidy over other relationships and the cost of both. Abbott mines the homoeroticism of female bonds complicated by affection and loyalty, the façade of beauty and war paint insubstantial when integrity and a true sense of self are at stake. Frivolous and provocative, Abbott’s novel stirs a definite reaction, like a girl who suddenly wears the look of a seductive woman before assuming once more the sweet-faced innocence of youth.