I thought for sure that my first official review for this blog would be an big honking fantasy, because that's where my heart lies in a lot of ways. But instead it's going to be a YA contemporary that I decided to read because it sounded like a YA contemporary that I was planning to write and I'm glad I did. Dare Me by Eric Devine is an older YA book that is hard to categorize (I'll get to that in a moment) and was a fantastic read with a little bit of something for every kind of reader.
The basic concept behind Dare Me is best summed up by a reviewer on Goodreads that referred to it as "Jackass with heart." It was so simple and so perfect that I've put it in every review that I've written for it. Ben Candido and his buddies Ricky and John are kind of non-persons in the social strata of their school and decide they want to become "legends," so they embark on a year long series of dares that they video and post to You Tube with a stream of money coming in from a very shady benefactor. As the year goes on and the dares get more and more dangerous, Ben finds everything about his life spiraling out of control and the damage threatens to take out almost all the things he cares about.
I'll admit I was expecting one thing and got something completely different. It was much more layered and complex than I was expecting. Ben Candido was a fantastic protagonist. You wanted things to work out for him, but deep down inside you had a feeling that they weren't going to work out. Sometimes Ben's motivations and decisions had me scratching my head, but I'm a 41 year old father of two. I can remember the motivations and decisions of the 17 year old me rather well (and painfully) that I guess it does make some kind of sense.
Devine weaves a lot into this book: domestic abuse, parental relationships, sibling relationships, the relationships between boys/men (a motif in my writing), school issues, dating violence, gossip and sexual identity. I kind of wished that we got a little bit more into the Ricky/Trevor and the Ben/Chantel relationship but there's enough so you know it's there. I particularly loved the ticky tack nature of the three friends' relationship. It felt very real to me and drew me to them. Ben, Ricky and John are compelling and very real kind of kids. I felt like I knew them on some level and that they were me on another.
The thing that Devine does that really vaults this book into another category (or several) is that he mashes up the genres as the story moves along. It becomes part thriller, part romance, part suspense, part adventure, part coming-of-age novel. And I love a good genre mash-up.
I can't recommend this book enough and I've already Sharpied for the best of the year 2014.