Give Me Your Hand
Megan Abbott
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Buy *Give Me Your Hand* by Megan Abbottonline

Give Me Your Hand
Megan Abbott
Little Brown
352 pages
July 2018
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Abbott weaves an intense, slow-burning spell, charting the lives of two women with conflicted demons. Give Me Your Hand is a brilliantly simmering melodrama that touches on the friendship between Kit Owens and Diane Fleming. For both girls, ambition is a gift, but this ambition provides Kit with some dark evidence against her friend. In chapters alternating between then and now, Kit tells us how she first met Diane in her senior year in Lanister High school, where AP chemistry brought them together. Diane has a crackling energy, as well as hunger and a singing ambition.

Diane is deeply scarred by the events of her childhood. She now lives with her granddad, but she's haunted by a dark secret. What Kit doesn't know is that all of Diane's assumed perfection is nothing more than "a shield, either to keep something out or to keep something in." The past is shattered, happy memories destroyed for the two friends.--that is, until Kit starts working at the Severin Lab. Together with Zell Maxim, Juwon, Serge, and handsome Alex, Kit has spent the past 14 months toiling away, delving into the dark heart of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a set of symptoms with no agreed-upon cause but characterized by mood swings and uncontrollable rage.

Alex proves to be the "strangest kind of flirt." Like Kit, Alex wants to get one of the three slots in the NIH grant application that is being coordinated by the head of the lab, the briskly efficient and mysterious Dr. Severin. Like Kit, Alex is devoted to Severin's potentially groundbreaking work. Kit secretly hopes that Dr. Severin will pick Alex and her for two of the three slots in the PMDD grant. What seems like a positive future for Kit rapidly becomes mired in uncertainty when Kit poaches accomplished Diane. Now there's another woman in the mix, stripping Kit of any advantage she might have had. Brilliant, strange, extraordinary Diane still plagues Kit's dreams as if she's standing next to her at the long slab table in their high school chem lab with "her pin-neat notebooks and her keen gaze."

Something inside Kit shifts and turns and how a living thing, once dormant stirring now and filled with rage. Diane may be attempting to show remorse for her past, yet her desire to reconnect with Kit is nothing more than pretense. Lurking under the dark scrim is her voice, like "a worm wiggling: I'm taking your scholarship and leaving you with this. "What would it take for Dr. Severin to decide one of her team members was more of a liability than an asset? What might Diane have told her?

Like a dark tide, Abbott pounds us with imagery: the lab a "blue cave" where amid the soft hiss of the Bunsen, "the filmy lavender of potassium" is fire and magic; the "vampiric lab-life" bluer, as though conjuring Diane's tubercular beauty and "sunken glamour," her eyes glowing in a "kind of rapture." The lab itself always glowing but black and lifeless, "a puzzle box snapped shut." The secret Kit has carried for most of her life eventually comes to the surface, triggering suspicions, pitting one student against another and culminating in a terrible, bloody lab accident. Diane eventually shows Kit what darkness was and is and how it works, how bad things can end on a cellular level: "All I can think of is Diane and that old Diane feeling, like walking in deep water, the weight against my legs, the unstoppable drag."

Abbotts's veiled characters dissect how the lies and misconceptions of the past resonate in our present and tie us to the concept of natural justice. Abbott gets right to the heart of this unspoken competition between Kit, Diane and Dr. Severin, who rigorously holds court, exerting authoritarian power. Kit is not sure what drew her and Diane closer, but Diane's daring words presage the secret that Kit has held tight for so long, lodged deep in some "vapor-tight box" in her head: "by telling me, Diane, you trapped me."

Abbott circles closer to the heart of Diane and Kit as Kit's life changes forever. I had to constantly second-guess myself as Abbott led me away from the murder at hand, ever deeper into Kit and Diane's psyches, into their past and their present. As Kit fights to find a clue to a mystery she doesn't know she's in, Diane's truth, which has plagued her for much of her life, is just waiting to be exposed.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2018

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