Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

“Blood will have blood…”

😀 😀 😀 😀

Back in the last days of high school, Kit Owens became friendly with new girl, Diane Fleming. Beautiful, intelligent Diane encouraged Kit to rise above the modest ambitions she had for herself, and instead set her sights on gaining a scholarship to study biology at university. But Diane also told Kit a secret – something so shocking it ended their friendship and has haunted Kit ever since. Now Kit is working as a postdoc for Dr Severin, a scientist both girls had admired and been inspired by. All Dr Severin’s team are hoping for a coveted spot on a new study she’s beginning, into PMDD – Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – an extreme form of PMT. But suddenly Dr Severin announces she’s taking on a new team member. Kit is appalled to discover that her old friend Diane is now to be her colleague and rival. Old secrets turn into new nightmares…

I always love the way Megan Abbott writes about the hormone-driven intensity of teenage girls and their friendships, but I’m also glad she’s beginning to take her girls into womanhood too in her last couple of books. This follows the almost ubiquitous pattern of current thriller writing of having sections set in past and present (with the past written in past tense and the present in present tense, which is at least slightly more appropriate than some uses of the annoying present tense). It also has a touch of “that day” syndrome (where the narrator keeps referring ominously to something that happened in the past), though in this case the reader is told what happened that day reasonably early on – before I got to full tooth-gnashing, Kindle-hurling mode, although it was close. Kit, of course, is an unreliable narrator. Surprisingly, despite all these stylistic clichés, I enjoyed the book, which is a tribute to Abbott’s writing.

There’s very little I can say about the plot without spoilers. I found the setting of a biology lab intriguing – it feels very well researched and believable, as Abbott shows the teamwork that is essential but also the rivalries for the limited number of grant-funded positions that offer the best opportunities for break-through research and professional triumph. PMDD is a syndrome I hadn’t heard of before, and is mostly peripheral to the plot. But Abbott employs it as a kind of vehicle for using female biology as a theme, with much – too much – concentration on blood. There’s a kind of feeling of throwback to the days of women being perceived as witchy and dangerous because of their dark sexuality. Personally I felt Abbott over-egged that aspect a bit – her adult women seemed to be as intense as her adolescents and, while she clearly wasn’t intending this, it felt to me almost as if she were suggesting that her professional women were all driven to the point of obsession, with an odd unstated link to their femaleness as the root cause. It didn’t ring wholly true to me, though it made for a nicely warped and scary story.

Megan Abbott
(© Philippe Matsas/Opale)

Did I find the plot credible? Well, no, not in the end. But the things that went over the line for me only happened very near the end, so didn’t spoil my enjoyment while reading. As usual, there were one or two twists too many, but that’s another of these laws of contemporary crime writing, sadly. The employment of all these current trends – the present tense, the unreliable first person narrator, the incredible twists, the past/present storyline – prevented me from loving this quite as much as some of her earlier books. But the quality of the writing, the excellent pacing, and the interesting plot and setting meant that as usual Abbott kept me reading well into the wee sma’ hours, so despite my criticisms I recommend it as a thoroughly enjoyable read!

PS I know I’m a tedious pedant but… the past and present sections are headed Then and Now. Fine – simple, clear and means the reader is never left confused. Plus, Now gives some excuse for present tense. Imagine my pedantic surprise then to discover that the final section of the book is headed Ten Years Later. Ten years later than now? You mean, in the future? Are we seeing it through a crystal ball in Divination class? Or do you mean Now is ten years ago – in which case it really can’t be Now, can it? Words matter. Don’t they?

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Picador.

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32 thoughts on “Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

  1. Words really do matter, FictionFan, so I can see how that Ten Years Later bit got to you. It would me, too. I’m glad you found a lot to like about this, and I agree with you about Abbott’s writing talent. Funny how all of those things that normally drive a person into Kindle-hurling mode don’t seem so bad if a story’s well-written… At any rate, it sounds like an interesting premise.

    • It was a minor thing but it did throw me out of the story – made it too obviously not “real”. Ha – I know, I notice my own inconsistency in reviewing when I come across these things. Basically, if a book holds my interest I forgive a lot of things that would drive me up the wall if I was finding the book a bit tedious. Abbott always manages to keep me turning pages even in the occasional one I don’t love quite so much…

  2. Words matter!! This is quite intriguing although it sounds possibly a little contrived, to me. I’m reading a book about the history of Bedlam asylum at the moment and last night read a fascinating chapter specifically about female madness and how for far many years than you would believe, female instability was entirely attributed to their periods and apparently insatiable lustful desires! Interesting that a modern female author is still depicting us fully grown ladies as slaves to our hormones. Which is ridiculous. We all know that women operate on a sensitive wine / chocolate balance that must be kept regulated at all times… 😉

    • Hahaha – so true! I’ve thought for years these things should be available on prescription for the general benefit of society! Yes, this book felt a bit like a throwback to that idea, but I couldn’t help thinking of the women I worked with (and myself) who in general were too exhausted, bored and annoyed to feel all intense and lustful. Maybe I was just in the wrong job… 😉

  3. I love reading your reviews. They always make me grin. I don’t always agree with your or, rather, I don’t always notice all the things that make you want to ‘fling’ the Kindle (truly – I love my Kindle – I’d never fling it!), but to each her own. We all have our ‘ouch’ buttons or ‘fling’ buttons. Mine are probably different from yours. I can’t stand the TSTL heroines (as in Too Stupid To Live) and, especially when I am listening to audio, have actual conversations with them.

    So, I agree with you about Megan Abbott and teen girls. She really gets them and relates that well. Haven’t read this one as yet, but plan to. Interesting that she puts them in a lab. I like that. Smart women – I like that too. I’ve read other books by her and, while she’s not on one of my ‘big favorites’ list, she is an author that I notice and will try each of her books.

    • Aw, thanks, Kay! Haha – someone should really develop a ‘fling’ app so I could hurl my Kindle virtually without damaging either it or the wall. Paperbacks are so much less dangerous! 😉 I am a very picky reader – too picky sometimes – but I can’t help it… 😂

      She’s great at teenagers, isn’t she? She always reminds me of just how wonderful and terrible the teen years were – not sure I’d like to go back to them! I’m glad to see her moving into adult characters too now, but as yet I don’t think she does them quite so well…

    • Hmm – I’m not sure either if you would like any of these. If you were ever tempted, You Will Know Me might be the one that I’d recommend to you – it’s done from a more adult perspective and her characters felt more credible to me in that one…

  4. Wow, I’m not familiar with this author. The premise sounds intriguing. But the fact that the ending didn’t seem to work for you causes me to pause.

    • She’s a great author – one of my faves, and even though this book wasn’t one of her best, IMO, it was still a good read. And you know how picky I am… 😉

  5. This does sound really promising, FF, and I have been curious about it. Good to know you enjoy her as an author, and perhaps I should read another of her books first. I loved your review! The 10 years later doesn’t bother me now- and hopefully not in the future either. 😂

    • Believe me, ten years in the future becomes much more bothersome as one ages… time speeding up and all that! 😉 She is a great writer, so that even though this wasn’t my favourite of hers I still enjoyed it. Hope you enjoy her too, if you ever get a chance to try her… 😀

  6. A brilliant review as always FF – I loved your comments about the abundance of blood and the heading up of the chapters! This does sound good, despite your concerns, although since despite having this author’s books on my wishlist for ever, I should probably start by reading one of her earlier novels. Like you I find intensity far more credible in teenagers than grown women (those that exist in real life annoy the hell out of me!)

    • Thank you! 😀 Haha – I did feel the book could have done with just a little less blood! Mind you, maybe ten years from now they’ll have invented better carpet cleaners… 😉 I do think at the moment she’s better at teens than adults, though the adults in her last book were fine. The End of Everything would be a great one to start with… 😉

  7. Words matter … lots! I realize the “experts” believe a present tense is necessary to pull the reader into the story and make him/her eager to follow the characters, but gee, I really prefer somebody telling me a story that happened, not telling me as it’s happening. Guess I’m odd that way!

    • Well, the “experts” should try asking some actual readers because while not everybody hates present tense, it always seems to me from comments that it puts a significant number of readers off… and I don’t really see why either authors or publishers would want to do that!

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