Sara Hosey

Sometimes you have to get lost to get found.

I’m thrilled that Iphigenia Murphy is finally out in the world! If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, please do–and maybe buy one for a friend as well!

From the School Library Journal:

Hosey touches on issues such as unexpected friendship, trust, abortion, rape, courage, hope, incarcerated parents, drugs, physical abuse, and violence, though the book never becomes overly graphic. Each of these issues is intricately woven throughout the novel and leads Iphigenia to answer questions of identity and self.

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Here are some discussion questions for Iphigenia Murphy, perfect for starting the conversation at a book club or in a classroom! [Warning: spoilers ahead!]

In the 5th century Greek play Agamemnon, the character Iphigenia is sacrificed by her father so that the gods will allow his ships to sail to war.  Consider the following questions about Iffy’s name:

  1. Why do Iffy’s parents give her a name with such weight and significance? 
  2. In what ways does Iphigenia Murphy’s story overlap with the story of the Greek Iphigenia? In what ways does it depart from or revise that ancient story?
  3. Corinne makes a joke about Iffy’s nickname: “I think I might have just gone with Murph myself.” What do you think of Iffy’s nickname? Does it reflect anything about her character?
  4. For a while, Iffy is calling herself Brenda. Corinne has also changed her name. Anthony’s siblings call him Ant. Angel’s “real” name might have been Lola. Why do so many of the characters have several or shifting names? Does who they are with matter in terms of what they want to be called? That is, how do our relationships with others affect how with think about ourselves?
  5. Why is the book titled Iphigenia Murphy? What does the title tell you about the primary concerns of the novel?

Iffy is disconnected from her mother’s family and background. Consider the following questions about Iffy’s ethnicity and her relationship to her mother:

  1. How and why does Iffy’s ethnic background matter?  
  2. Early in the novel, Iffy reveals that she doesn’t fit in at school. Is one’s racial or ethnic identity still a factor in how teenagers navigate high school? Do you think most people sit at lunch tables with others who are racially similar to them?
  3. What are some of the reasons that Iffy feels so strongly that she needs to find her mother? Come up with her top five reasons (even if she isn’t totally aware of those reasons herself).
  4.  Do you think that someone who is very different from Iffy—someone of a different background or class or a different gender identity—could relate to Iffy’s story? Why or why not?
  5. Both Corinne and Anthony also have difficult relationships with their mothers. What is the role of the mother in Iphigenia Murphy? What can or should a mother do for her children? What do each of these characters want from their mothers?

Iphigenia Murphy tackles some difficult issues, including rape, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence, and abortion. Discuss the following questions about these topics:

  1. Iffy’s step-brother’s violence against her is never explicitly described. Why is this?
  2. While, unfortunately, trans folks experience higher rates of intimate partner violence than other communities, domestic violence cuts across cultures and identities. That is, Corinne’s story is too common for all kinds of people.  What factors allow and empower Corinne to finally leave Henry for good?
  3. The termination of a pregnancy is rarely represented in popular culture and perhaps even more rarely represented in young adult literature. How was abortion handled in this novel? 
  4. Did this novel make you think differently about any of the issues it addresses? How and why?

Iphigenia Murphy ends with Anthony and Iphigenia on the subway, traveling to see Iffy’s mother. While the novel concludes on a hopeful note, many challenges still face the characters

  1. What would you, ideally, like to see next for Iphigenia? What do you think is most likely to happen?
  2. How would Iffy’s experiences have been different if the novel took place today, rather than in the early 90s? How might Corinne’s experiences be different?
  3. Do you think Corinne and Iffy will stay friends for the rest of their lives? What does the novel suggest about the power of friendship and community?
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Author, speaker, and influencer Rachel Hollis may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But guess what? She doesn’t care. And that’s the number one reason I love her:

  • Hollis reminds us to value ourselves and our work, regardless of what other folks might think or say.

In Girl, Wash Your Face, Hollis writes: “Someone else’s opinion is not your business.” Hollis’ words resonate with me deeply, especially now that I am on a publishing journey and live in constant fear that someone out there that I have never met will say something mean about my book.

The reality is that this will and has happened and, amazingly, the Earth has continued to turn.

It stings, of course, to have someone dislike you and/or your work. And while feedback has its place, I think what Hollis is saying is that caring too much about what strangers on the Internet might think about you can have real damage. It can stop you from taking chances, creating, or putting yourself out there in the first place. You have to give up trying to control other people and their opinions; it is not a battle you can win. 

Not letting others’ negative opinions get to you is easier said than done, but I’ve really appreciated Hollis’ messaging on this topic. Reminding myself of why I write and who I am writing for helps me to stay focused and working.

  • Hollis doesn’t pretend it’s all effortless.

If you are a woman who has children and who also works, you have probably been asked, at some point, how you do it. If you are a super-successful woman, like Hollis, you might also be expected to answer that you simply work really hard, or that you just really really want it, or that you have a great husband. You might answer that you’re just so #blessed.

In Girl, Stop Apologizing, Hollis is honest about just how much “help” she has behind the scenes. She writes, “We have a full-time nanny, and we’ve had one since our oldest was three months old. Because of moves or additional kids added to our family, we’ve had three separate nannies (though not all at once) in our history as a family. These women—Martha, Jojo, and now Angie—have loved my children well and made it possible for me to pursue my career while Dave pursued his.” She writes that they also have a housekeeper as well as a work team and and an assistant.

First, I love that she gets specific about the kind of help she has. Her answer isn’t so vague as to be meaningless. Second, I think it is super cool that she notes that this staff has also enabled her husband’s success. This is a good reminder that when we don’t ask men how they balance work and family, we assume that they don’t have to. In this way, we naturalize the thinking that men don’t have to care for the children or clean the house because, of course, there is some woman (usually a wife) behind the scenes orchestrating it all.

Too often the folks who make households run are rendered invisible. I so appreciate Hollis’ honesty around these issues of work, family, and gender. For our family, excellent and affordable childcare has been absolutely essential to our ability to function. When my kids were small, they were able to attend the Children’s Greenhouse daycare at Nassau Community College and it was just the most amazing and nurturing environment for our entire family. I would not have been able to write either of my books–Home is Where the Hurt Is or Iphigenia Murphy–if we hadn’t been able to access this kind of support. Excellent childcare should be available for all families that want it.

  • Hollis Calls On Us to Be Inclusive

I’m not a religious person and when I first picked up Hollis’ books I thought I might feel put-off by some of the Christian stuff. But I wasn’t, because Hollis’ Christianity, it seems to me, is based on love and inclusion. In particular, I really admire how she asks us to look at our communities and to consider if we are surrounding ourselves with people who are already just like us–are we only hanging out with people who look like us and make the same amount of money we do and have the same political, religious, and social views? This is so limiting. Hollis writes, “Everybody should be at your table. Everybody should be on your stage. Everybody should be on your staff. Everybody should be invited to your kid’s birthday party. Everybody should be welcome in your church. Everybody should be invited over for dinner.”

Hollis’ commitment to diversity is clear across her various platforms, including in her books, on her podcast and in her social media. And her message is one that I do and will take seriously in my writing and marketing journey.

As a reader, I seek out books by people who might have a different perspective than I do. And I’ve tried, in my novel, to amplify the stories of folks that don’t always take center stage, to take on issues, including sibling sexual abuse and teen homelessness, that I think we can do a better job of talking about. Finally, in my work to promote my book, I make sure to give shout-outs to authors whose work I think deserves more attention or who might not have the same platform that I do.

Hollis Encourages Creativity, Risk-Taking, and Commitment

Throughout her books and podcasts and conferences, Hollis urges women to be unapologetically ambitious, to name and pursue their dreams, and to shrug off the predictable and often sexist backlash they’ll receive as a result.

These are the kinds of messages that so many writers–and women writers in particular–need to have embroidered on their pillowcases:

  • You have something to offer. Not everybody is going to like it, but that doesn’t matter.
  • It’s okay to make your writing a priority and to ask for help in doing so.
  • Everyone has something to offer; you will benefit from surrounding yourself with a diversity of voices.

hollywood sign

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It was a pure pleasure to read Lindy West’s latest book, The Witches Are Coming. Part of what is so satisfying to me personally is that West’s interests overlap with many of my own. In fact, I cover a little bit of the same territory in my academic book Home is Where the Hurt Is: Media Depictions of Wives and Mothers, but I have to say that West’s analyses are so incisive, I wasn’t even envious; I was invigorated by her ideas, her ability to pinpoint, articulate and dissect various problems and hypocrisies, and excited that someone else (and someone I so admire) was noticing some of the same things I’ve been ruminating about.

 

One of my primary contentions in Home is Where the Hurt Is is that feminist thinking has infiltrated popular culture and that mass media representations have changed as a result. For example, in the early 20th century, a man’s violence against a woman, if presented at all, was often shown to be natural, normal, or funny. See the opening of the 1940 film, The Philadelphia Story, for example. It’s thanks to second-wave feminists that we came to understand “domestic violence” not as a shameful private problem but an epidemic that needed to be addressed both at home and in the culture more generally.

 

What I’m saying is that, after decades of propaganda telling women that home was a safe and happy place for them, media finally caught onto the idea that the domestic could be quite perilous for women. While many representations of domestic violence in the 1980s and even 90s leave a lot to be desired, the fact that an issue that disproportionately affected women was being depicted at all was a victory.

 

Third-wave feminists continued the critique of popular culture and, these days, I argue, we have more and more shows, movies, and books that not only center women’s lives and experiences, but which are the work of feminist writers, producers, and directors. Showrunner Jill Soloway, for example, in discussing their work, explicitly states that they have a feminist agenda: “I’m like, cis-hetero patriarchy has been making propaganda forever…I had to grow up watching fucking white dudes act like women should be competing for them on the basis of their financial success — that’s propaganda. So I’m gonna make my propaganda until it’s all equal.”

 

Soloway is a hero; they are also, of course, in the minority. In her book, West discusses the continued lack of diversity behind the camera and calls for significant shifts in who is telling the story. And, as she often does, West tells her reader not to despair, but to step up, to participate, to get out there and fight and create. In the chapter “How to be a Girl,” West writes, “Art didn’t invent oppressive gender roles, racial stereotyping, or rape culture, but it reflects, polishes, and sells them back to us every moment of our waking lives. We make art and it makes us, simultaneously. Shouldn’t it follow, then, that we can change ourselves by changing what we make?”

 

Yes, yes it does follow! And what West has done, not only in creating her show Shrill but in the essays collected in The Witches Are Coming, is to enact exactly what she’s calling for: calling for systemic analysis and change, critiquing cruelty and laziness, and creating writing and art that amplifies women’s concerns and voices. More of this, please.