“After All We Aren’t Savages Really…”
I remember the cover so distinctly, a boy’s sun-browned face half hidden behind a tangle of vines. The impassive stare. Despite my brother’s assurances that I’d like it, I was dubious. I remember not wanting to read it, thinking it must be meant for boys, like when we had to read Johnny Tremain in fourth grade. (even in my early teens, I still felt very keenly that there was a distinction.) Besides, it looked like an island adventure tale, and I preferred my adventures more gothic, more darkly glamorous.
But from the minute I opened William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies (1954) I was transfixed. What unfurled was emotionally harrowing—a group of boys abandoned on a deserted island who attempt to govern themselves, with devastating results. But it also felt trigger-sprung with exciting and terrifying ideas about the nature of power, leadership, humanity. In part, it was like turning over a beautiful black beetle and seeing the wet, wriggling mass underneath. The prose was so precise, so clean, and the story so ferocious, so provocative, so ruthless. Reading it felt like being ambushed. It was thrilling. Taken by surprise, overwhelmed, subsumed by a book—it remains my standard to this day. How I know a book is special indeed. When it ambushes me.
In school, thanks to a very smart English teacher, my appetite for the book was fed by larger discussion—about what the book might say about the innocence (or not) of children, about how some see the book as a parable for the Cold War, for religion. It was exciting to think that there were books that weren’t just about what they were about. I felt the power of books more intently than ever.
Reading and re-reading it, I developed a crush on Ralph, the “good leader” among the boys. People always talk (as they should) about how dark a view of humanity the book represents. But for me, it’s also the reverse. The thoughtful, strong-hearted Ralph moved me deeply. And the raging pain of the “bad leader” Jack—I felt it keenly. However dark the book becomes (and few are darker), there’s a strongly humanistic element in the book—the urgency of Golding to make us care, to tug us close, to show us what we do and do not want, or want to become.
I never had a conscious thought of Lord of the Flies while writing my latest novel, Dare Me, about a group of high school cheerleaders and their charismatic new coach—and the fierce allegiances and betrayals that emerge after a sudden death occurs. But after a few readers suggested an influence, I realized it had to be there, pulsing under the beats. The girls painting their faces with glitter they wear as war paint. Their savage cries. Good captain, bad captain. Who will you choose? How will you know? Who’s the real Jack, the real Ralph, the real hero? How do you hold onto your heart admix such tumult and chaos? But you do.
“Megan Abbott has [written]…The Great American Cheerleading Novel, and—stop scowling—it’s spectacular…. Subversive stuff… ‘Heathers’ meets ‘Fight Club’ good. Abbott pulls it all off with a fresh, nervy voice, and a plot brimming with the jealousy and betrayal you’d expect from a bunch of teenage girls.”
Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.
Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself.
Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain.
The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.
About Ariel Lawhon
Ariel Lawhon is the co-founder of She Reads, novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.