Reviewed by Christy H.
Sometimes you read a couple of books that may have similar themes or plots or they could even be based on the same events. These books can make interesting comparison reading or companion books. I thought a companion series would be fun, and I started with two books that almost couldn’t be any more different even though they both chronicle the lives of high school cheerleaders.
Cheerleaders: The First Evil, written by R.L. Stine, was first published in 1992. I probably first read it as a sixth grader but I can’t say for certain. A re-read met my expectations: it’s cheesy, not at all scary, and full of nostalgic fun. Sisters Bobbi and Corky Corcoran are new to Shadyside High, and desperately want to make the cheerleading squad. They are not exactly received with welcome arms. Their placement incites resentment and jealousy when a freshman cheerleader is demoted to “alternate” to make room for the championship-winning sisters. Tensions grow when their head cheerleader is injured and a veteran member of the squad is passed over for the position in favor of new girl Bobbi.
All of this is only exacerbated by the mysterious and frightening events that begin to happen soon after the Corcoran sisters join the squad. Suddenly the teens have to deal with a horrific bus accident, slamming locker doors in an empty hall, sporadic bursts of paralysis for school athletes such as Bobbi and football player Chip, and much, much worse. Stakes wise I assumed it would be about on par with Goosebumps but it’s actually quite a bite heavier than I expected. Still, it was a lot of fun and a great palate cleanser after some of the darker books I’ve read this summer.
Megan Abbott's Dare Me is also set in the competitive world of cheerleading. While there is nary an evil spirit to be found there are similar themes to The First Evil : friendship, pressure to succeed, the sometimes cutthroat world of teen girls and their alliances to name a few. Despite The First Evil dealing with malevolent, otherworldly entities, Dare Me is actually much, much darker. Its darkness comes from the real life problems its characters face whether it’s an eating disorder or downright cruelty from their supposed “friends”. Even their new coach, who is only in her late twenties and still a bit of a mess herself, is not above a biting remark at the expense of her charges’ self-esteem. Let me say upfront that these girls (and their coach) are terrible, terrible people with whom I would never want to associate with in real life. They’re manipulative, petty, and unrelenting. And they are really, really fun to read about.
When the cheerleading squad gets a new coach Captain Beth is not ready to relinquish control. Their old coach basically let Beth have free reign but Coach Collette French is not having it. This, of course, does not sit well with the captain. Our narrator Addy, and Beth’s second in command, knows just how far Beth will go to get what she wants. Like gossip about people you barely know, you are horrified by what these girls do and say but you can’t wait to find out what they’ll do next. I can’t recommend this one enough especially for those who enjoy the works of Gillian Flynn or just anti-heroines in general. I really enjoy Megan Abbott’s writing, and I look forward to diving into her other books.
I couldn’t help imagining a mother/daughter book club where a mother reads Dare Me and her daughter reads The First Evil. Dare Me felt like a natural extension of The First Evil – R.L. Stine is great for kids but then they grow up and realize real life has just as many terrors