Dare Me is a crime novel set in a high school, the story revolving around the members of a cheerleading team and their reactions to their new coach. And there’s a murder in there somewhere.
The premise fascinated me. The world of cheerleading was an entirely new setting for murder, at least in terms of my experience with crime novels, but I could definitely see it working, and the beginning set it up as being very sinister.
‘After a game, it takes a half-hour under the shower head to get all the hairspray out. To peel off all the sequins. To dig out that last bobby pin nestled deep in your hair.
Sometimes you stand under the hot gush for so long, looking at your body, counting every bruise. Touching every tender place. Watching the swirl at your feet, the glitter spinning. Like a mermaid shedding her scales.
You’re really just trying to get your heart to slow down.’
So maybe it’s harsh to say the book isn’t good. The writing is excellent and I love the above description. Even though it mentions sequins and glitter, there’s something about the writing style that tells you straight away: this isn’t just a girly frolic about cheerleading. It promises something dark, that will stick with you after you’ve finished reading.
But it doesn’t deliver. The coach is set up as this mysterious, aloof new character, but then the boundaries break down so quickly that she appears desperate. Why does she want to be BFFs with a bunch of teenage girls? You suspect there’s something strange behind it, but it’s never revealed what it is. Her sudden closeness with the main character, Addy, is unexplained and unrealistic. If she was going to favour any of the girls in real life, it would be Beth.
I HATE Beth. I just couldn’t understand why everyone put up with her. She does physical harm to people, she never has a nice word to say about ANYONE, and she does that annoying thing of texting you and freaking out when you don’t answer. (I have plenty of people who do that in real life; I don’t need to read about them in books.)
And when I say freaking out, I mean really freaking out. She literally stalks Addy, turning up at her house in the middle of the night to check on her – not out of worry, but out of wanting Addy all to herself – just because she didn’t text back. WHY IS ANYONE FRIENDS WITH THIS GIRL I MEAN I JUST AAAAAARRRRGH
I did feel sorry for Emily, and would probably have enjoyed the book more if it had been written from her point of view. After all, no one wants to read a book about the girl who calls them fat and spreads rumours about them, and that’s all Addy is – a horrible girl who uses people for her own means and does not deserving cheering on (AHAHAHA) any more than Beth does. I don’t know if Abbott was trying to make a point by making her protagonist so unlikeable, but if that was her intention, it completely missed the mark with me.
Like I say, the book was well-written. But those characters, man. No amount of clever writing will save the story if your characters are all despicable.