Not all games are fun. Some, especially those played by adults, can cut deep, cause physical and psychological damage, and even end in tragedy, as Jessica Hamilton (What You Never Knew) persuasively depicts in her exciting second novel, Don't You Dare. Hannah and Scarlett became best friends in fifth grade. Like "conjoined twins," they were always together, until their duo became a trio in college with the arrival of Thomas. United by obsession, sexual tension, and their outsider status, they challenged each other to increasingly risky dares until one ultimatum ended badly. Now, 16 years later, Hannah is grieving a miscarriage and an emergency hysterectomy. Hamilton expertly shows Hannah at her lowest: she seldom leaves her house, her days filled with alcohol, reading, and the neglect of her daughters, ages 11 and 14. Her marriage to the controlling Evan disintegrates. She and Scarlett communicate only through social media. Then Thomas moves to Hannah's town in upstate New York, wanting to resume their game of dares, and an affair. As before, challenges become perilous, and the threat of danger grows, upending Hannah's life even more.
Hamilton's look at friendship's dark side fuels the novel's intense plot, enhanced by a character study of the easily manipulated Hannah. Hannah's grief and self-imposed isolation make her more vulnerable to others, including Evan, who once had her committed and threatened she'd lose her children; a nosy neighbor who keeps tabs on her activities; and Thomas, who pressures her into reckless trysts, regardless of her mental health. The tension doesn't stop in Don't You Dare. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer