‘Dare Me’ Author Megan Abbott Takes Mommyish Inside The Terrifying World Of Teenage Girls

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Megan Abbott‘s new novel Dare Me is one of the most riveting and chilling fiction books I’ve read in years. It tells the story of a tribe of intensely competitive cheerleaders, spray-tanned, master cleanse-addicted, vicious and ruthless under their bouncing blonde ponytails and their reek of bubblegum breath and snarky status Facebook updates. Beth Cassidy, the captain of the cheer team, and Addy Hanlon, her fiercely loyal lieutenant, rule the school and the squad unchallenged. Then a new cheerleading coach arrives who tests them physically, mentally and emotionally, wrecking havoc on the girls allegiances to each other. When the young and charismatic Coach French is questioned by the police about a shocking suicide, Addy must unravel the mystery as the cheer season heads to its final performance.

An unflinching look at the secret world of teenage girls, I found myself unable to stop reading, delving into this universe of teen warriors and seeing not only myself in them, but every girl who experienced the dark underbelly of high school and who made it out alive. Megan Abbott shares with us how the idea for Dare Me came about, and how exactly she knows so much about teenage girls.

How did the idea for Dare Me come about? 

In my last novel, The End of Everything there’s a character who’s a serious high school field hockey player. I started watching high school girls play and was so struck by their intensity on the field. Their aggression but also this wild abandon. That sent me into an exploration of girl’s sports, which led me to cheerleading, the most dangerous of all. Watching today’s squads, which are so much more athletic and competitive than in my day, I was fascinated by the girls’ willingness to not only push themselves but to take dramatic risks. I started thinking about it as this exciting terrain to explore female friendship, power, ambition.

You write girls really brilliantly and unapologetically. Were you just drawing from your own experiences as a teen or eavesdropping on teen girls at the mall ? 

I did trawl the online cheerleading forums and message boards quite a bit, but mostly to get a sense of how the girls viewed their sport. Most of the rest came from my observations of teen girls I know along with a great deal from my experiences at that age. Once I began sifting through the ashes of my own girlhood, all these memories of the twisty, occasionally treacherous way teen girl friendships operate came rushing back. The way friendship at that age can feel like a love affair—filled with excitement and betrayal. So intense, so fraught, and in many ways doomed. 

What were you like in high school? 

I was the editor-of-school-newspaper type. I think I went to one pep rally my freshman year and never thereafter. I spent most of my time in high school itching to get out, to get to college. So it’s ironic (or fitting?) that I keep writing about that age!

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