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Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

BOTTOM LINE: Girl Power – even if one might be a little mentally unstable!

Genre: Mystery; Psychological Thriller
Publication Date: 17 July 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“You told each other everything. Then she told you too much.

Kit has risen to the top of her profession and is on the brink of achieving everything she wanted. She hasn’t let anything stop her.

But now someone else is standing in her way – Diane. Best friends at seventeen, their shared ambition made them inseparable. Until the day Diane told Kit her secret – the worst thing she’d ever done, the worst thing Kit could imagine – and it blew their friendship apart.

Kit is still the only person who knows what Diane did. And now Diane knows something about Kit that could destroy everything she’s worked so hard for.

How far would Kit go, to make the hard work, the sacrifice, worth it in the end? What wouldn’t she give up? Diane thinks Kit is just like her. Maybe she’s right. Ambition: it’s in the blood…

My Thoughts: Note: What follows may contain a lot of gushing. Continue at your own risk.

Even though I thought Ms. Abbott’s previous novels were excellent, she completely outdid herself with Give Me Your Hand. Not only is it a creepy cat-and-mouse game wherein ambition and desire collide with ethics, it is a feminist novel that moves to eviscerate medical research and its utter lack of studies devoted to women’s issues. It is at once informative as well as enthralling, and you immediately want to share it with your best girlfriends so that you can settle into a nice long discussion with them about Kit and Diane, their actions, their secrets, the state of medical research as it pertains to women, and the games women have to play to get an advantage in almost any situation.

From a feminist perspective, there is so much to love about Give Me Your Hand. The fact that the novel revolves around three very successful female medical scientists is mind-boggling. This is not because of the idea that women can have any career they so desire, but the fact that I cannot remember another novel in which the head researcher and her assistants are all women. This is not a situation wherein an author adds a token person of color or woman to a team in order to establish so-called diversity. This is true diversity wherein women in the field of science hold more power than the men. That these are successful women in their field – one predominantly male in nature – is another first. We can tout the need for young women to enter into the STEM fields in college, but until these same women see other women succeeding, there will always be a hesitancy to break that gender barrier. Through Kit and Diane’s successes, as well as that of their mentor, this shift in the gender dynamics of such a story is empowering and inspirational, and it makes you want to shout “About damn time!” from the rooftops.

As innovative as Give Me Your Hand is regarding women in the field of science, Ms. Abbott is a wise woman. She understands female dynamics. She knows that all too often, women are their own worst enemy when it comes to female coworkers. Instead of standing together against the men, who usually outnumber women in any boardroom or laboratory, women will fight each other and manipulate situations and other coworkers as the means of seeking any iota of advantage over a female coworker. We see this most specifically in the unusual relationship Kit and Diane has. From the very beginning, there is a competitiveness to their interactions – running stride for stride together in order not to be last or first, studying together so that one will not study more than the other. This carries over into their professional lives as Kit aims to be the first one into the lab and the last one to leave each day, the one with the cleanest workspace, the one with the most diligent techniques. Even when working together, there is a level of mistrust between them that goes beyond the secret that tore them apart all those years ago. The mistrust is more a battle of advantages, trying to balance the importance and integrity of the study without conceding any advantages to the other. Any woman who has worked with another woman will have similar stories of female coworkers backstabbing each other, exercising political maneuvering, and generally shoddy treatment of each other all in the name of getting ahead. It is a game women have been forced to play for over a century as there continue to be a limited availability of adequate promotional roles for women; hence we see all women as competition in the work environment. It is something Ms. Abbott captures quite well, establishing the nuanced ways in which this occurs and by which men encourage such competition.

The other exciting aspect of the story is the research study itself. All women know that there has been little to no research devoted solely to female hormones and issues related to them. We can all relate stories about trying to find a doctor to believe us when we say something isn’t right. Hysteria may no longer be an official diagnosis, but the number of male doctors who scoff at women and their complaints is still, albeit anecdotally, way too high in this day and age, so much so that they might as well continue to diagnose hysteria as a medical complaint. So when I saw that Kit was hoping to work on a groundbreaking study of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, I all but squealed in delight and wished the book were nonfiction. While the story is indeed fiction, I assure you PMDD is not, and Ms. Abbott makes sure to inform all of her readers of this fact. Throughout the novel, she intersperses facts about PMDD, what it is, how it affects women, and how no one really understands why it occurs. For those of us who suffer from it, she vindicates us and our suffering. She gives attention to our monthly plight and makes us feel seen at a time when most doctors won’t even diagnose it as an official illness (my doctor will not). It is such a liberating feeling.

There may indeed have been some negative elements to Give Me Your Hand, aspects that don’t quite work, or plot points that are a mite too predictable. However, I did not notice them because I was too caught up in this feminist marvel of a novel that celebrates female intelligence, success, and health while cautioning against the more toxic elements of female professional relationships. It was such a refreshing reading experience not only because of the topics discussed but also because the drama involved the two women only; there is no male love interest, no male father figure, nor a male mentor. Thank you, Ms. Abbott, for representing women so thoroughly in Give Me Your Hand. Now, let us work on having every one of every race, religion, gender identification, sexual preference, and socioeconomic level experience similar reading delight through their own representation within quality novels meant to empower as well as entertain.

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