Give Me Your Hand
by Megan Abbott
Set in the competitive world of STEM, Give Me Your Hand has been my favorite Megan Abbott book so far. Kit, the narrator, and Diane, first meet in high school where Diane inspires Kit to work harder and expand her ambitions. Kit helps Diane, who transferred in as a senior, feel less isolated. Their friendship elevates them both until, haunted by the words of Hamlet, Diane confesses an unforgivable secret to Kit. Burdened–infected–by her new knowledge, Kit withdraws from Diane, believing she will never see her again after graduation. But secrets don’t die so easily.
Twelve years later, Kit works as a postdoc in Dr. Severin’s biochemistry lab. She’s known as the hardest worker, the first to arrive every morning. And when Dr. Severin receives a prestigious NIH grant to study premenstrual dysphoric disorder, Kit believes her dedication, and, as the only female postdoc, maybe even her gender, will earn her one of the two spots available for researchers on the team. She even begins to feel a surge of confidence until Dr. Severin announces an addition to the laboratory–Diane Fleming. Diane’s arrival undercuts Kit’s self-assurance and dredges up past anguish. As the two compete for the coveted research spots, Kit wonders how far Diane would go to sabotage her, securing her a spot on the grant and ensuring her secret remains hidden.
At first, I feared the book would be based on the unfurling of Diane’s secret, with clues and red herrings doled out. Instead, the narrative focuses much more on why people keep secrets (if indeed they can) and what happens if they do. The book is well-written, expertly layered, and though-provoking. I found following the motifs and symbols through the book (blood, the color green, mirrors, Hamlet’s Ophelia) very fun and rewarding. And in an era where every psychological thriller or mysteries promises an unbelievable twist, the plot in Give Me Your Hand genuinely surprised me at times.
The novel highlights the challenges for women in male-dominated academic environments, and the sacrifices they must make, especially when the competition is so fierce no one can be trusted. I found it spoke to the need for providing quality education to all regardless of socio-economic status and demonstrated the additional burdens faced by poor students, from a lack of opportunity to a lack of equipment. The book also raised interesting questions about how we explain and justify our behavior.
You should read Give Me Your Hand if you like psychological thrillers, contemporary fiction, and writing about women. I’m sure you fall into one of those categories, so put the book on your reading list!
True Life Inspiration (Spoilers if you click!)