Give Me Your Hand

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Thank you to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a copy of Megan Abbott’s novel, Give Me Your Hand, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In high school, Kit and Diane were close-friends, primarily because they were both driven and competitive, both at the top of their class and interested in science. This is where the similarities end. Kit is from a single-mother household, where finances are tight. Diane has divorced, yet wealthy parents and lacks for nothing. Kit is somewhat scruffy and Diane is refined. Kit has social skills and the ability to easily make friends, where Diana is an ice-queen, only friends with Kit.

The girls maintain a friendship primarily based on intense study sessions, until one evening when Diane reveals a shocking secret. Kit is undone by Diane’s revelation and since it is close to graduation, she simply stops spending time with Diane, knowing that after high school, the their lives will head in different directions.

A decade later, Kit is working in a laboratory under the prestigious Dr. Severin, a female scientist who is awaiting funding for her groundbreaking study on PMDD. As they receive word that the study is funded, Dr. Severin surprises the staff by announcing that she will only be continuing with two people, Kit and a new hire, Diane. Kit’s world is rocked by the reappearance of Diane. Will Diane’s secret continue to haunt Kit?

LIKE– I’m a fan of Abbott’s writing and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review Give Me Your Hand. One of Abbott’s greatest strengths is in creating vivid characters with intense emotional lives. She lays them bare and exposes all of their greatest weaknesses, the types of shortcomings and mortifying thoughts that most people would never admit about themselves. I always cringe when I encounter her characters, but I cringe because those moments ring true. Her characters can be petty and they don’t always make good choices. They act like real people and are compelling.

Along with this, she does such a great job at writing teenage characters. Give Me Your Hand flashes back to Kit and Diane in high school. In a particular cringe-worthy moment Kit reveals a sexual experience she had while being driven home after a babysitting job. The moment she describes is incredibly uncomfortable, but the reason that she is telling the story is worse. She is telling it while on a school trip and in a desperate attempt to fit in with the other girls, she decides to reveal this secret, thinking that it will help her image. As an adult reading this and having the hindsight of age, I want to shake her (and give her a hug), but also as an adult, I can remember those moments at that age. It’s awful. Abbott’s writing is so skillful that it made me feel both a sense of nostalgia and anxiety.

I can’t remember reading many, if any, novels set in a lab, let alone those with strong female lead characters. Go women, go science! Abbott gets bonus points for this.

The early parts of the novel have some great suspense and mystery building. I was eagerly turning the page and curious as to how everything would unfold. Diane’s secret is teased out for a long time too. I kept turning the page, Abbott had my attention.

DISLIKE– Okay, truthfully, I was disappointed in the last third of the story. I was hyped up and along for the ride, but the twists at the end fell flat. I didn’t have a good pay-off.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. I definitely recommend reading Abbott, but Give Me Your Hand wasn’t her best book.

The Subway Girls

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Thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me with a copy of Susie Orman Schnall’s novel, The Subway Girls, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– It’s 1949 and Charlotte Friedman has just finished a typist course at Hunter’s College. She is eager to figure out a way to break into the advertising industry, even if she must work in the typing pool while figuring out how to show her male superiors that she is not only eager, but also capable and creative.

Charlotte suffers a set-back when she learns that there are no jobs available in her dream agencies and what’s more, her father needs her help at the family paint shop. Charlotte is beginning to feel that her dreams will never come true, when she manages to become a semi-finalist in the Miss Subways contest. The Miss Subways are a joint venture between The New York Transit Authority and the famed John Roberts Power Modeling Agency: a contest where one ordinary, yet beautiful, local girl is picked a month to grace posters in Subway cars. Initially skeptical, Charlotte realizes that by winning the contest she might be able to leverage her five-minutes of fame to lure customers to her father’s business and in return, she will gain her freedom to pursue her dreams.

In 2018, Olivia is living Charlotte’s dream of working in advertising, yet, the dream is not fully realized. Olivia is smart and capable, yet she struggles to be heard in a business that is still a “boy’s club.” Olivia has a debilitating crush on her boss, Matt, with whom she has been carrying on a secret, casual sex-based relationship. When the agency has a chance to pitch a campaign to the New York Transit Authority, Matt pits Olivia in an idea contest, against Olivia’s rival, Thomas. One of Olivia’s ideas takes her down the rabbit hole of the Miss Subway’s contest and she meets women from a different generation who make a big impact on her life.

LIKE- I’m a fan of Historical Fiction and I love the concept for The Subway Girls. After finishing Schnall’s novel, I spent a few hours looking at the original posters and reading about the real-life inspirations for this story. It was fascinating and I hope to visit the New York Transportation Museum in the near future to see the exhibit about the Miss Subways campaign. Schnall had a great idea to write a story that parallels the lives of two characters, two women from different generations, both with huge dreams.

The comparing of women from two generations, looking at how much things have both changed and stayed the same with regard to expectations and opportunity, was compelling. Although Olivia isn’t expected to marry and let her husband take care of her, she still must fight for equal treatment in her workplace. As a woman born in the late 1970’s to a single, working mother, I had been raised to believe that anything was possible. If I worked hard enough, I could do or be anything that I wanted. I still believe that, but it is slightly dampened by my work experience in male dominated areas. It is a fight sometimes. I could relate to Olivia’s situation.

I did not anticipate the big twist with Charlotte’s character. That was quite a surprise and well-done.

DISLIKE– I can’t give specific examples because it happened throughout the story, but I often felt the dialogue rang false. It took me out of the story-world. I enjoyed the characters and overall plot enough to push past the dialogue issues. I felt the problems were primarily with the younger Charlotte chapters.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. Yes, if you’re a fan of Historical Fiction or mid-century New York City. I enjoyed The Subway Girls, but in the long-run, I’m not sure that it will make my list of most memorable novels of 2018. Whether or not you read Schnall’s novel, make sure to look up the Miss Subways for a bit of yesteryear nostalgia.

Beautiful Bodies

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Thank You to Little A for providing me with an advance copy of Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir, Beautiful Bodies, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In her memoir, Beautiful Bodies, Kimberly Rae Miller explores her relationship with her own body; the confusion she feels over body image and her never-ceasing diets.

LIKE– I loved Miller’s previous memoir, Coming Clean, about growing up with parents who are hoarders, and I was thrilled to be approved for a galley edition of her latest memoir. Miller is a talented writer who is very open with sharing the intimate details of her life. This openness and vulnerability is what makes her writing so accessible. When I read her books, I feel like I’m being told a story by a close friend. Admittedly, I did not find the subject of body image to be as fascinating as her being raised by parents who are hoarders, however Miller’s writing is so good, that I’d likely pick up any book she writes.

What Miller really hits on is the disturbing problem of very young girls dieting and having negative thoughts about their body. Honestly, I don’t remember personally having these issues, but I see it in elementary-aged girls that I know; the fear of being fat and the obsession with dieting. It’s scary! Along with her personal dieting stories, Miller throws in some dieting history. I love how she blends in the historical perspective, providing some Trivial Pursuit worthy tidbits.

Miller analyzes how her body image has impacted her relationships, including that with her husband, Roy. It is hard for Miller to trust that Roy accepts her body with all of its changes, including pregnancy.

DISLIKE– Nothing. Miller is brutally honest and often very funny.

RECOMMEND- Yes!!! If you are unfamiliar with Miller’s writing, I highly recommend that you read both Coming Clean and Beautiful Bodies. She has a strong voice and unique perspective.

The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness

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Thank You to Perseus Books Group, PublicAffairs Books, and Nation Books; for providing me with an advanced copy of Jill Filipovic’s The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Can American women truly find happiness? Jill Filipovic explores the issue of happiness and feminism, looking at the history of the United States, statistics, and personal stories.

LIKE– I was raised by a strong, single mom, and from birth, I was always told that I can do/be anything I want. I never felt like being female limited my possibilities. That said, I’m not blind to the fact that things are not equal. I guess I chalked things up to we’ve come a long way, but there is still further to go and it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, et… I’m an optimist. However reading The H-Spot was eye-opening. Filipovic made me realize that maybe I should reconsider my optimism, by showing me ways that the system has been stacked against women.

For example, Filipovic talks about the expectation that women will give up their last names when they marry. I’ve been married twice. The first time, I kept my maiden name and it bothered family members/friends: I got heat for my decision. The second time, I took my husband’s name. I’m proud to have my husband’s last name, but it’s the societal expectation that is troublesome. She explains that the burden is on women alone, and when surveyed, it became clear that most men, would not even entertain the idea of taking their wives last name, and many would be upset if she didn’t take his. To take this further, Filipovic links the last name to identity and power, something that a woman is pressured to give up. This idea of a lost identity is something that I had never given much thought, but in retrospect, I believe it is why I was reluctant to change my name in my first marriage.

Filipovic put it in terms of a power play, men get to keep the power, while women are expected to sacrifice. The same thing happens when it comes to careers and children. Yes, there are stay-at-home dads, but more frequently, the woman is expected to give up her career or take the time away to be at home. The worst of the situation is when there is a lack of support from the community, including other women. The decisions that women make, often pit them against other women: working mothers vs stay at home moms, those who breastfeed and those who don’t, mom’s vs childless women, et…the support system is flawed, making security and happiness hard to come by.

I liked how Filipovic balanced the content of her book, not just relying on history or personal stories, but blending the two. This made her exploration feel more comprehensive. I was most interested in the latter chapters, those dealing with subjects like fertility and body image. I wish that she had included even more interviews and personal stories. As she mentions, it’s impossible to write a book that is exhaustive on this subject, but Filipovic does a solid job at hitting the main points.

DISLIKE– I was unevenly interested in the chapters, especially the early chapters. I’ve taken several college level women’s history courses, so the history was very familiar: I wasn’t learning anything new, it was more of a refresher. However, to someone who hasn’t had the exposure, the history should be enlightening and interesting.

RECOMMEND– Yes. The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness is a must-read for women. Filipovic’s honest exploration of modern feminism is a worthy read.