I love a good read about teen jealousy, betrayal, and the ugly extremes people will go to in order to rise to the top - especially one that lays bare the insular world of high-school cheerleaders. This is why I found Dare Me - the 2012 critically acclaimed novel by Megan Abbott that's been adapted as a 10-episode series on USA - so compelling. If you're a fan of Bring It On, I should warn you that Dare Me is way less campy and much more dark and twisty. It's a subversive story about the power dynamics in female friendships, described by USA as: "part coming-of-age story, part small-town drama, part murder mystery."
Did I forget to mention that someone dies in this book? Someone dies, you guys. Like I said, it's a pretty dark read. I devoured Dare Me in one sitting a few years ago, so I already know who committed the crime. Read on, if you wanna know everything that goes down in the book, too.
Roll Call: Beth, Addy, and Coach
Beth Cassidy and Addy Hanlon are high-school cheerleaders and best friends. Beth is the manipulative queen bee, Addy her little minion. That all changes when a new coach arrives in town to whip the squad into shape and drive a wedge between the two girls. Coach Colette French is tough, bordering on sadistic - in one memorable scene, she pinches a squad member's midsection and decimates her with an icy "fix this" - but somehow manages to win everyone over. Everyone except Beth, who Coach quickly dethrones as captain and catapults off the top of the pyramid - both literally and figuratively. Addy is inexplicably drawn to Coach, however - intoxicated in the way only a girl who's not yet a woman can be - and the feeling is definitely mutual. The two start hanging out all the time, both in and out of school.
And Then Someone Dies
Just as Beth's jealousy of Coach starts to spiral, Addy and Beth stumble upon Coach having sex in the faculty lounge with Sarge Will, a cute National Guard recruiter assigned to their high school. Since Coach is married to a man named Matt French - they even have a 4-year-old daughter named Caitlin - Beth relishes this turn of events that once again gives her the upper hand. Coach even winds up reinstating her as captain. But then Sarge Will turns up dead in his apartment, and Coach calls Addy to the crime scene, where she finds him sprawled on the floor with a gun peeking out from behind his leg.
So, Who Did It?
In the aftermath, Addy isn't sure who to trust. Should she believe Coach, who tells her Sarge committed suicide? Or should she put her faith in Beth, who tries to convince her it was her beloved Coach who killed Matt? As Addy famously warned in chapter one: "There's something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls." And we eventually find out that it was Beth who actually set all the horrific events in motion when she went and told Matt that Coach was cheating on him. Matt then went to Will's home in a rage and shot him.
In the end, Matt is arrested, and Beth falls from the top of the pyramid during the year's final game, fracturing her skull in three places. By August, when the book concludes, Addy is leading the squad - her transformation from lieutenant to captain at long last complete.