Monday, March 11, 2013

Fiction | The Volatile Underbelly of Cheer Squad


Where’d that world go, that world when you’re a kid, and now I can’t remember noticing anything, not the smell of the leaves or the sharp curl of a dried maple on your ankle, walking? I live in cars now, and in my own bedroom, the windows sealed shut, my mouth to my phone, hand slick around its neon jelly case, face closed to the world, heart closed to everything.

Megan Abbott’s Dare Me is really a deceiving novel. The cover looks very YA. The plot summary sounds very YA. But when you read it, you find it’s not really YA.

Dare Me is about a high school cheer squad, which sounds kind of basic, but it’s much more intense than you would think. For Addy Hanlon, through whose eyes we experience the story, cheer is what defines her. She’s always been more of a right-hand man, taking the backseat to her best friend Beth—the unofficial leader of this pack. It’s Junior year now, and this is always the ways things have been. When a new cheer coach arrives and shakes up the regime, though, nothing is like it once was. The rules and hierarchies that were established have been unsettled, and everyone is grasping for a new identity.

Or, trying to hang on to their old one.

Amidst the everyday, incessant back-stabbing of teenage girls, a bigger situation is also suddenly on hand. Coach gets wrapped up in the police investigation of an apparent suicide, and the girls—and particular Addy—are left questioning the truth and where their loyalties lie.

Initially, Dare Me reminded me a lot of The Virgin Suicides because it’s got this distant, unattached perspective, despite being told through first-person eyes. The perspective is so conflicting with the actual voice, and you realize that, for most of the book, you actually know nothing about these girls; you only see the effect of their relationships with each other, not how their behaviors stem from their own individual personalities.

These characters essentially personify everything you fear about “teenage girls” as an entity; Abbott’s abrupt writing fosters a cold, caustic setting where relationships feel empty and characters feel desperate. This isn’t mean to sound negative by any means, though; Abbott’s use of language and interaction is incredibly creative, creating a world that feels like the harsh reality of a typically superficial, bubblegum stereotype. The language is acerbic, sharp, and sexually-charged, simultaneously holding you at a distance from these characters and their motivations while overall sucking you into its simmering plot.

The more I think about this one, the more I like it, because it possessed a voice and perspective that was refreshingly new. Very enjoyable.

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