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Give Me Your Hand


Give Me Your Hand

Megan Abbott’s previous novel, YOU WILL KNOW ME, was set in the cutthroat world of competitive gymnastics. Now, in her latest effort, GIVE ME YOUR HAND, she again turns to a different environment, but one that still serves as a pressure cooker of sorts for high-achieving young women: the biomedical research lab.

Kit Owens first met Diane Fleming when they were high school students attending cross country summer camp. The two were competitors and became cautious friends --- and when, one night in their bunks, the girls took turns swapping stories, Kit felt comfortable admitting to Diane and her other cabinmates her deepest secret to date. After all, she probably would never see Diane --- who attended a private girls’ school --- again.

"For those who like psychological thrillers that really make you think, you can’t do much better than GIVE ME YOUR HAND."

But then, after her parents’ divorce, Diane lands at Kit’s public school; they become chemistry lab partners and, quickly, competitors. Although they are friendly and greatly admire one another, they are also competing for a distinguished women-only scholarship to the excellent chemistry program at the state university. For Diane, it’s all about the prestige and the opportunity to work with the scholarship’s sponsor, Dr. Severin. But for Kit, the stakes are higher --- without the scholarship, she’ll be stuck going to the local community college, and her academic ambitions will likely grind to a halt. And then, Diane reveals to Kit a stunning secret of her own.

More than a decade later, Kit has clearly done something right, as she’s the only woman on Dr. Severin’s research team, investigating the roots of PMDD, a violent, severe form of premenstrual syndrome. Dr. Severin has just received a substantial grant, one that will move her research forward immeasurably. But just when the other researchers agree that Kit is a shoo-in for a spot on the grant research team, a face from Kit’s past arrives on the scene. That’s right, it’s Diane --- still beautiful, still brilliant, still eager to impress Dr. Severin. As the pressure mounts, the two women’s pasts and presents become inextricably entangled. And the results are deadly.

Abbott structures GIVE ME YOUR HAND with alternating sections labeled “THEN” (about Kit and Diane’s high school friendship) and “NOW” (about the events that transpire in Dr. Severin’s lab). Along the way, she effectively employs plausible coincidences to cross Diane and Kit’s paths again and again, with increasingly dire results. Her novel explores issues of loyalty, betrayal, trust and psychopathy, all playing out against the background of a competitive academic research lab.

The fact that Kit and Diane are female scientists, working with a female principal investigator to research a “woman’s issue,” could, in less capable hands, come off as a little on the nose. But instead, Abbott effectively interrogates the seriousness of the stakes for female scientists, especially those with academic ambitions, and the lack of resources devoted to women’s health research. And, of course, against this backdrop unfolds a series of nested secrets and a gruesome death --- or two or three.

For those who like psychological thrillers that really make you think, you can’t do much better than GIVE ME YOUR HAND.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 20, 2018

Give Me Your Hand
by Megan Abbott