Women behave badly in Give Me Your Hand.

A blurb on the cover of the Kindle edition reads, “You don’t have a self until you have a secret.” It’s well chosen. This statement is repeated like a mantra throughout the book. Give Me Your Hand is, in fact, a novel about a secret and its corrosive effect on the people it involves. That secret causes women to behave badly in this captivating new effort from Megan Abbott, an emerging star of the mystery genre.

A terrible, terrible secret

Kit Owens had always underestimated herself. Growing up poor in a small town, she had reconciled herself to an unglamorous life locally when Diane Fleming came into her life. Diane was brilliant, blonde, beautiful, and tall. The two became close in high school and routinely studied together. Diane unleashed Kit’s competitive instincts and set her on a course to pursue a life as a scientist. Then in their senior year she told Kit a secret. A terrible, terrible secret.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (2018) 352 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)

Women behave badly

A decade later, the two are reunited as Ph.D. post-grads in the laboratory of a famous woman scientist. There, the enduring effects of Diane’s secret, and Kit’s guilty awareness of it, wreak havoc on their lives and lead to deadly consequences. Truly, women behave badly as a consequence.

Give Me Your Hand is a masterful effort. Abbott tells the story in short chapters that alternate between “Then” (in high school) and “Now” (in the lab). She either has a background in science that is inconsistent with her Ph.D. in English literature or she has done a great deal of research. The scientific references in this novel are not simply window-dressing. There is extensive detail about the lab’s research into PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). In less able hands, detail of this sort might get in the way of the suspense that builds at an accelerating pace throughout the book. But in Abbott’s it simply lends authenticity to the tale.

About the author

Megan Abbott has written nine novels as of 2018. Give Me Your Hand is the most recent. Her earlier efforts have won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and a great deal of favorable recognition from reviewers of mysteries and thrillers.

Abbott’s fellow thriller author Ruth Ware reviewed this book for the New York Times Book Review (July 22, 2018). Ware compares Give Me Your Hand with Abbott’s previous novels. “Although at first sight ‘Give Me Your Hand’ looks like a departure from the themes Abbott is best known for — the world of teenage gymnasts in ‘You Will Know Me’ and of cutthroat cheerleaders in ‘Dare Me’ — in many ways it’s vintage territory. Female friendship and ambition are threaded throughout her work, and here they form a rich tapestry, as she contrasts the ‘now’ of Kit’s professional life as a postdoc in Dr. Severin’s lab with ‘then’ of her high school relationship with Diane.” In fact, in all Abbott’s work, women behave badly.

For further reading

Check out Beryl Lieff Benderly’s interesting review in Science, of all places: “A suspenseful (fictional) look at women in the lab.”

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