Dare Me might be the most noir thing I read this year. Unlike the last book I read where I was in the place of the outsider looking in, I was plunged into a contemporary world that felt familiar because it felt like the movie Heathers. Both the movie and this book have memorable teenage narrators. Dare Me is the story of a year in the life of 16-year-old Addy, who feels recognizably sardonic and clueless at the same time.
Addy is a cheerleader who is her longtime friend Beth’s lieutenant on the squad. Addy quickly becomes obsessed with their new coach, Coach French, and the plot kicks off when Coach’s lover apparently kills himself. Adding the noir feel, the death scene feels very much like a movie scene (maybe Blood Simple with the view from the ceiling fan). The mystery takes up as much space as the setpieces about difficult cheerleading routines: their physicality and their dangerousness. Just as the sport of cheerleading is fraught with danger, Addy’s closeness to Coach and her strained relationship with Beth are also menacing.
The parents are quite absent from this book: they are either divorced or remarried and in their own worlds. Coach French is the only adult throughout the story, along with her husband and a group of military recruiters that the teenagers and Coach French become involved with. It’s a story about huge teenage feelings/ obsessions, and it feels like melodrama.
The final section of the book is heartbreaking as the characters’ motivations/ motives are revealed, and while I wasn’t entirely surprised by them, they were still quite heartbreaking. There isn’t much hope at the end of the book, which is why I’m dubbing it the grimmest story I’ll probably read this year.
Finally, a couple random thoughts: first, I wasn’t enamored with the narrator in the audio version I had. Her voices grated on me occasionally. Next, I will say that this is my favorite Abbott book compared to her other teenage-girl novels, The End of Everything and The Fever. The tension felt higher, which is why I preferred it, I think.
I borrowed the audio version from the library.