Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Audiobook Review: Dare Me by Megan Abbott

I think the best way to describe this book is dark and twisted.  It's set in a high school and two of the main characters are high school students, but it's definitely not like any other YA I've read recently.  Given the writing, the themes, and the blurbs, I'd classify it as adult, although I have seen it on quite a few YA lists.  Our main character, Addy has always been happy with her status as lieutenant to her best friend Beth.  She's second in popularity and on the cheer squad and she's never needed more.  But when the girls get a new cheerleading coach, Beth's position is threatened and Addy seems to have a chance at being "top girl."  Not only does this push Beth into all-out psychological warfare to regain her position, but the coach is also hiding some serious secrets and has brought Addy into her personal life with dangerous consequences.

The highlight of this book is definitely found in the plot, not in any particularly excellent writing.  Which is not to say that the book is poorly written, it is just very plot-driven.  The shocking nature of the story really overshadows any details in the writing.  No major positives jumped out at me, although a few negatives did. 

One was in the believability.  There is not a single responsible adult in this book.  No teacher involvement, no parent involvement, rarely are adults even present.  I know I had a very sheltered childhood, but I have a hard time believing that in an entire cheerleading squad, not one girl has an involved parent and that in the entire school there isn't a single teacher who is at all attentive to major issues going on in the school.  Same thing along the same lines as many other YA books: no one ever does homework or thinks about grades, everyone has cars, no one has curfews or worries about parents smelling alcohol on their breath, etc.

Another issue was with the repetition.  I think we heard descriptions of how the new coach was making the girls' bodies "harder" about a billion times.  We get it.  They are getting into good shape.  It just keeps coming.  Same with descriptions of stunts.  I know it's a cheerleading novel, but there was a lot of description involved in how the stunts worked that I just didn't need.

Entertainment Value
I do have to say that I was engrossed in the story.  It's very dark and I've been on something of a moody, noir kick this fall, so it fit in with some other books I read (Gillian Flynn comes to mind).  It's also just an interesting plot - it's exciting, it's got lots of twists and turns, and lots of shocking moments.  It was exactly what I expected from the book and I'm pleased that I took the time to listen to it. 

However, there are some things that I think may turn other readers off.  There are not likable characters in this book.  I actively hated every single one of them.  The girls were terrible - bullying, abusive, mean, petty, just ugh - and the adults were worse.  This is definitely not a "feel good" book.

There's also a lot of adult approval for things I think most adults would actually frown on: teen drinking, involvement with older men, eating disorders, and physical/emotional abuse.  Some of the adults even make it possible and actively encourage the girls to participate in these activities.  I think some readers will be put off by that as well as the language.

Nothing notable.  I liked the narrator's voice fine and didn't find anything about the narration distracting or unpleasant.  I do think sometimes it's harder for me to deal with hearing lots of cursing as opposed to reading it.  Somehow my eye can skim over it more easily than my ears can.

Reading back over it, this seems like a pretty negative review, but I actually liked the book.  I think there were some problematic themes, especially for less mature readers, and I think the writing could have used some tweaks, but I enjoyed the story and was engrossed in finding out what would happen.  If you're a fan of books like Gone Girl, I think you'll appreciate this one as well.

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