Dare Me by Megan Abbott, believe them. This is a terrific adult thriller about those YA cliches, bitchy cheerleaders.
Main character Addy is the beta female in a cheerleader squad. She serves her alpha "captain," Beth, and initially seems very comfortable in that spot in the hierarchy and with her relationship with the traditionally awful Beth. The two of them are tight, tight, tight. Their world is disturbed right off the bat when a new cheer leading coach comes in, one as badass as Beth. I wondered, myself, if she wasn't a former Beth, reliving the good old days as best she can. To do it, though, she has to battle Beth. Among the things they're battling for is the beta, Addy.
Oh, yeah. And there's a guy.
Whenever I read an adult book with a young protagonist, my immediate question is Why? Why is this an adult book, not a YA or children's book? Theme, I was told once, is an important factor in what makes YA YA. Dare Me falls well within the noir genre, and the noir themes that apply here are far more adult than YA. Okay, my understanding of noir is shaky. But I've been reading about themes involving a fate that can't be avoided, as well as despair, darkness, and obsession. None of the cheerleaders in Dare Me are made happy by anything they do or achieve. And their coach? She knows things aren't going to get any better.
Is this all there is? How's that for a theme? It's not one traditionally associated with YA, which usually deals with moving into the adult world, finding a place in society, etc.
I felt the homoerotic touch was unnecessary. It risked making the story just a common all-about-love thing. On the other hand, don't noir protagonists often have at least a sexual attraction to a femme fatale? In which case, Dare Me was giving a neat twist to classic noir.