Megan Abbott’s Dare Me Is Fight Worthy

I’d have to say one of the treasures that I picked up at BEA is an advance copy of Megan Abbott’s Dare Me. At Girls Write Now, we were going to have Megan Abbott for our crime fiction workshop, but her schedule got too busy so we had to get another guest host. I was surprised when I saw that Abbott was only signing at BEA for half an hour versus the hour that most well-known authors get. Surely she qualified as a well-known author?

I finally made it into the actual line of the signing area and saw there were about fifteen minutes left of Abbott’s signing session. I thought for sure I would get my copy of Dare Me when an assistant came down the line and notified us that they were almost out of galleys. She did tell us, though, that Abbott would be signing in an hour at the Mystery Writers of America table. Once I made sure that they would have copies of Dare Me, I fled the line.

On the main floor at BEA, there are lines everywhere. Free stuff plus librarians and other book industry professionals is a heady mixture. I saw some older women just about beating the crap out of each other in their efforts to score free fanny packs with FODOR’S printed on them. I scoffed at the time but then found myself in line at the MWA booth waiting for my Abbott book. I was about fourth in line, assured a copy, I thought, and watched as the previous book signers wrapped up their session. I saw Linda Fairstein—I had secured a copy of her latest earlier that morning—making nice with the other writers and then collecting her bag and things. The line had grown quite sizable behind me when the MWA guy appeared and tried to explain how he wanted us to flip the line around. Complete chaos ensued as everybody tried to figure out where to go, but I stayed planted. I refused to give up my spot in line.

There were only a few copies of Dare Me available, and after glaring down people who tried to cut in front of me, I asked Abbott to sign one of those as I admired the covers of her other books. I had only read her latest The End of Everything and wasn’t familiar with her noir offerings. After seeing the covers, though, I’m putting those books on my list. Sometimes I do read a book based on its cover.

With Dare Me signed and safely put away in my bag, I left the booth and saw the MWA guy arguing with a man from Midpoint Books whose booth was directly behind MWA’s. Watching them fight and gesticulate, I learned why the line had to be flipped. The Midpoint Books guy was mad because the lines of people waiting for the MWA signings covered up his booth and exhibit. It’s tough being a little fish at a big event.

The cover for Abbott’s Dare Me is simple, but I do find the shade of lipstick used uncheerleadery, and Dare Me does center around cheerleading, most especially the dark side of that peppy world. The cheerleaders in Dare Me are presented as women warriors, but there is always a quality of duplicity in their aggression. Their armor is glitter, ponytails, short skirts, and Ke$ha lyrics. Their weapons—cell phones and texts. And to prepare for war they use Hydroxycut, Master Cleanse, and chew and spit—all the skinnifying tricks. Abbott gets all the details of girl world right, and unlike episodes of Glee, she doesn’t hold back or try and teach a lesson.

Dare Me is told through the eyes of Addy Hanlon, the second in command of the Eagles cheer squad. She finds herself to be the steely lieutenant to Beth Cassidy’s captain. Addy is thin but sees herself as four inches too tall to be top girl, the coveted position of the Eagles cheer squad. This position always goes to the smallest, lightest, and most gymnastic of the cheerleaders. For years, this has been Beth—Addy’s best friend since childhood and the meanest and bitchiest of the squad. Beth has ruled for two years, but she’s been a lazy leader. Her reign in interrupted when the squad is given a new coach, one who has led previous teams to championships. Coach French earns the girls’ respect by training them harder than they’ve ever been trained before, and a battle of wills erupts between Coach French and Beth.

Weirdly enough, the female warriors are paired against real soldiers—recruiters from the U.S. Coast Guard who have a table at the high school. Sarge, an attractive, battle-scarred vet, becomes the object of the girls’ affection, and when he’s sucked into girl world, he loses. It hardly seems like a fair fight. With the death of Sarge, a police investigation surrounds Coach French and the rest of the cheer squad, where the political machinations, the jockeying for position, get downright vicious.

I love stories about female aggression, and I wish there were more out there. It’s a topic that’s so meaty and needs to be explored thoroughly. Dare Me is a worthy addition to this canon, right alongside such works as Mean Girls, Queen Bees and Wannabes, and Odd Girl Out. I sure am glad I fought to secure my copy.

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