Tatum chose our February book, which as you can see was Dare Me – a book about cheerleaders and affairs and a weird Coach. If you thought our last book club discussion post was all over the place in terms of agreement, then you haven’t seen anything yet.
Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives. Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself. Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain. The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.
Tatum: As a protagonist, I have to say I initially thought Addy was more of a voice for the story to be told through than a fully fleshed out character – which is my issue with a lot of YA main characters actually but I digress – she isn’t as fascinating as Beth, for example, often basically embodying her role as ‘lieutenant’. By the end of the story though she, for me, had become centre-stage in the story she was telling and I really liked that because it shows how she moves out from her perceived place as a right hand man to take the leadership role.
Lauren: I couldn’t stand her; I found her alternately boring and irritating, and I just couldn’t connect with her on any level. I also experienced a lot of telling rather than showing, especially with emotions. I was told how she felt a lot of the time, instead of it seeming like she was actually experiencing them. I just didn’t understand a single decision she made because it was never shown why she chose to do those things.
Amber: I quite liked Addy in the beginning of the book, before I started to lose interest in both her and the story itself. While her narrative was fairly boring, I would argue that I was bored by the writing style rather than the character herself. Like Lauren, though, I felt no real connection to her and I didn’t understand the choices she made.
Tatum: BETH. Ahem, I’m sorry. But BETH. I loved Beth so muhuhuhuch – I loved how she was sharp around her edges and smarter and more devious than any other character in the novel. Beth is the ringleader, the idea girl, the girl the other girls want to be and she embraces that role completely. Her relationship with Addy is the only instance in which we glimpse a more vulnerable side to her but I like that she is a character who doesn’t really have a line she won’t cross. She’s selfish and manipulative and wonderful *heart eyes* I really enjoyed the other cheerleaders because even though they exist mainly in the background of the story they’re still intriguing. On the other hand I did spend a lot of time ignoring the Coach because fuck that noise.
Lauren: Um, none? I mean, I get what Tatum is saying about Beth, and I think she could have been an incredibly interesting character, except that nothing of what she does is ever explained, and nor does it really even fit completely into the plot? She was just there, doing wild things and manipulating everyone around her, with this air that there were reasons as to why, but they’re never explained.
Amber: I hated them all. Tatum, why are you fangirling over Beth? WHY?! She reminds me of Chloe from My Mad Fat Diary, only with worse character growth. I couldn’t stand reading about Beth, and I was rolling my eyes at Addy’s descriptions of her. Pull. Yourself. Together. Other characters I hated included Coach (who I was sure was going to turn out to be a sexual predator), the solider guy, and Coach’s husband (also on my list of suspicious could-be sexual predators).
Tatum: I loved it tbh. Cheerleaders and internal girl politics and ambiguous sexuality and murder yes I will have some of that please and thank.
Lauren: If someone could please tell me what the plot actually was, I would be grateful. Was it about cheerleaders going wild due to lack of care and supervision? Was it about a murder mystery? Was it about the fact that if you’re a bored teenager in school you’re destined to be a bored wife and mother in life? Because there were elements of all of these, and yet none of them are fully realised. I just, I really didn’t get the point of this book.
Amber: I don’t think the plot went anywhere, and the whole murder/suicide mystery was wasted on these characters and on the author. I think it should have been a much bigger focus than it was, but that might be my morbid fascination playing a part here.
Tatum: ‘There’s something dangerous about the boredom of a teenage girl.’ I’d never read anything by Megan Abbott prior to Dare Me so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the writing but in a lot of ways I was actually really impressed. Abbott has the ability to write the most devastating sentences that are layered in subtext but she isn’t a descriptive writer, I don’t think. Her prose to me was sparse and bleak but that works for the kind of story she weaved in Dare Me.
Lauren: It was dull. I mean, I will always choose fresh, clean lines over flowery prose any day of the week, but this was written with all the flair of a medicine instruction leaflet. It told me what was happening with barely any inflection (unless you count the stuttering and repetition, which I don’t) and just left me with a vague impression that I was being lectured to and everyone had forgotten what the subject was.
Amber: The writing was the worst part of the book for me. I can handle bitchy characters (bloody hell, I loved The It Girl series, I love bitches), and I can handle the lack of character growth most of the time. What I couldn’t deal with, however, was the awkward, jumpy, and try-hard writing style. I spent a good while trying to find a decent snippet to explain what I mean, but it was difficult because I found myself wanting to share whole paragraphs. But let’s go with this: “I watch him enter the building and then, without even thinking, I follow him, sneakers sneaking across the wet parking lot. Stopped short by the locked lobby doors…” This sounds a lot like something I would have written in middle school, alliteration and all.
Tatum: Beth. And Addy. Beth and Addy together. Teenage girls being terrible and fearsome and awful and glorious.
Amber: Addy, I guess? In the beginning. Okay, I liked the first forty pages the best. That was my favourite aspect.
Least Favourite Aspect
Tatum: The Coach. I refuse to care.
Lauren: Surprisingly for me, it was the pseudo-queer aspect. I say pseudo, because it wasn’t really there as a part of anyone’s character, but just placed as a possible reason right at the end of the book as to why Beth (and to some extent, Addy) behaved the way they did. It was trite, and it smacked of being a plot device and to me, that’s not even close to representation.
Amber: THE FUCKING HORRIFIC PURPLE PROSE
In a Gif…
Well? What do you think? If you have read DARE ME you should let us know what you thought in the comments below. As you can see, we’re not in agreement with this book, and we would love to hear other varying opinions! If you haven’t read it, do you want to? Does Tatum’s fangirling intrigue you, or have Lauren and I put you off completely? I don’t know about the other two, but I had a lot of fun putting this post together and reading my besties’ opinions, so I hope you liked it too. Stay tuned for our next Book Club Pick, which was VICIOUS by Victoria Schwab!