Posts Tagged ‘Dare Me’

thefeverIn two of her previous novels, The End of Everything and Dare Me, Megan Abbott expertly mined the secret lives of teenage girls. She does it again in The Fever (Little, Brown, digital galley), inspired by the real-life outbreak of a mysterious illness among girls at a New York high school, several of whom testified on the Today show about their persistent tics and twitches.

In The Fever, puzzlement and panic ensue when pretty Lise has a violent seizure in class. Her BFF Deenie, who witnessed the frightening event, frantically texts their other friend Gabby and later convinces her father, a teacher at the school, that she must go to the hospital to see Lise. As rumors fly through the school and community, Lise lapses into a coma and other girls, including Gabby, develop alarming symptoms — rapid blinking, fainting, dizziness, confusion. Is the lake algae toxic? Maybe it’s a tainted HPV vaccine. Or it just the result of stress, maybe eating disorders? Deenie, who has been keeping several secrets from her family and friends, wonders if she’s somehow complicit in her friends’ illness, or is it just a matter of time before she, too, is stricken?

“You spend a long time waiting for life to start — the past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new amd terrifying and significant — and then it does start and you realize it isn’t what you expected, or asked for.”

The mystery illness propels the story, but its depth comes from Abbott’s artful depiction of the teens’ fevered friendships and rivalries, fueled by peer pressure, paranoia and raging hormones. There’s no vaccine for high school.

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Forget the ponytails and the nail polish. Look past the lip gloss and the glitter brows. It’s just war paint. The cheerleaders in Megan Abbott’s terrific new novel, Dare Me, are really girl gladiators in training, with fierce hearts and dangerous obsessions.

“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.”

So says narrator Addy Hanlon, 16, as she recalls sitting on the gym floor with her BFF Beth Cassidy, who has been cheer captain since forever. Addy, four inches taller than nimble Beth, is happy to be her bad lieutenant. But then the squad gets a new coach, 27-year-old Colette French, who isn’t satisfied with sloppy chorus-line flips and pom-pom shakes. She collects the girls’ cell phones, makes them run bleacher splints, says they don’t need a captain.

Still, Beth, with her clenched jaw, isn’t one to cede power lightly. She watches as Coach drills the girls into a more precise and cohesive team, and notes how many now compete for her attention. A favored few are invited to her ranch-style house, where they meet her harried husband and toddler daughter. Addy finds herself singled out for Coach’s confidences, but her loyalties are tested when she becomes privy to the older woman’s affair with a local military recruiter. Then there’s a suicide. Or is it murder?

Addy is scared. Of what she knows and doesn’t know. And also of what manipulative Beth knows, or pretends to know. “Coach, Coach,” Addy thinks. “I wanted to be a part of your world, but I didn’t know your world was this.”

As in last year’s The End of Everything, Abbott is very good at mining the secret lives of girls, the intense friendships and rivalries, the hidden fears and vulnerabilities, the peer pressure, the paranoia.  The last half of the novel unfolds like a fevered dream.  Dare Me dares you to stop reading.

Open Book: I bought the e-book of Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (Little, Brown). The term “cheerleader noir” isn’t original; I think it goes back to the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And that reminds me that I don’t really like Dare Me’s cover, which is too much like HBO’s True Blood. Here’s a thumbnail of the UK cover; I like it better, even if it reminds me of the TV series Bunheads.

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