I’m also available to speak (remotely or in person) on “Women’s Studies 101: An Introduction to Feminism,” “‘It’s Getting Better All the Time’: How Pop Culture is Becoming More Feminist,” “Domestic Violence on Screen” or more generally on my book, Home is Where the Hurt Is: Media Depictions of Wives and Mothers.
Particularly for readers who are struggling or who have struggled with the issues dramatized in Iphigenia Murphy, I hope they come away from the book with a sense that they are not alone, that they too can survive and heal and thrive, have adventures and fall in love and bring their unique light and healing to the people around them.
I hope that all of my readers come away from the book with a deeper empathy and sense of connection to others, a sense of hope and possibility and compassion.
I started Catholic school when I was a freshman in high school. It was a bit of a shock to my system, as, up til then, I had gone to public schools.
Here’s what was a particular shock: the way a 14-year old girl in a school uniform on public transportation is apparently a target for every pervert in the area. Those years on the subway and busses gave me all sorts of new insights into the depravity of many men.
How sad, I think now, that my classmates and I learned at such a young age that catcalling and harassment and assault were the price we had to pay for simply leaving the house.
Sometimes it was ridiculous: I remember once riding on the Q76 bus with a bunch of other Catholic school girls, when we noticed a man who had pulled up next to the bus in a convertible. He must have really planned the whole thing out, because we next noticed that, from where we sat and stood on the bus, we could see right into his lap. He had pants down, of course, and he was jerking off.
We crowded against bus window, pointing and screaming with laughter. I don’t think that was the reaction the guy was looking for, because he pulled away shortly after. We were able to laugh then, because we didn’t feel unsafe. There were lots of us and we were all in it together.
That wasn’t the case though, when I was alone on the subway and some guy exposed himself. I was surrounded by people, but they weren’t with me. They either didn’t notice or they pretended not to notice. They didn’t want to get involved.
There were many, many other times, sometimes on crowded platforms and sometimes in empty subway cars, when men followed me, tried to pick me up, said nasty things. And there were several months during my senior year when a guy was raping women in the area around our school. He did actually attack a classmate of mine and, amazingly, she just happened to be a black belt and she was able to fight back and get away. True story.
But we’re not all black belts. And honestly, we shouldn’t have to be.
The 90s was a complicated time to come of age. On the one hand, we were told at school–and in some areas of popular culture–that girls were valuable, that we could do and be anything, that we should be strong and empowered. On the other hand, in our daily lives in the world and, for some of us, in our own homes, we witnessed something very different. We saw women as degraded and often devalued, we saw ourselves in danger and we saw that, often, no one would stick up for us or stand by us.
My novel, Iphigenia Murphy, is a work of fiction. It’s not an autobiography. But I have drawn on my experiences and observations and, most crucially, I have drawn on those feelings of helplessness and shame and, most importantly, of rage, that I often experienced as a teenager in New York in the 90s. That is, I think like many girls and young women, I often was so angry at the way I was treated and I saw others being treated, but at the same time, I had nowhere to put my rage, nothing I felt I could do with it.
In Iphigenia Murphy, part of Iffy’s coming of age is learning how to harness her rage, how to cope with her trauma, how to heal, and how to advocate for herself and for the people and animals she comes to love. There are a few moments–and one scene in particular–in which I wanted to dramatize what it would look like for a young woman to fight back, to name abuse and exploitation, and to insist on her own safety and dignity.
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.
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:
Why do Iffy’s parents give her a name with such weight and significance?
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?
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?
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?
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:
How and why does Iffy’s ethnic background matter?
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?
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).
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?
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:
Iffy’s step-brother’s violence against her is never explicitly described. Why is this?
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?
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?
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.
What would you, ideally, like to see next for Iphigenia? What do you think is most likely to happen?
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?
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?
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.