Hope Jahren’s memoir, “Lab Girl,” is an incredibly honest telling of a woman finding her way in her field, her friendships and her life. Throughout the book, Jahren speaks candidly about working in a male-dominated profession, non-romantic bonds, mental health, being pregnant as a professional woman and much more. The intimate story-telling she uses to invite her reader deeper into her life is something not done by many other authors.
Jahren begins with “Roots and Leaves,” the section in which she explains her upbringing. As a child in Minnesota, she spent most of her time playing in her father’s lab at a nearby community college. As an adult, she received a bachelor’s degree in geology and a Ph.D in soil science, overcoming various challenges along the way. While adventuring throughout academia as a teaching assistant, Jahren met Bill— an undergraduate student with a gruff and humorous facade. At this point in the book, you’d expect it to fall into some sort of romance, but alas, the two remain closely bonded, but simply as friends— the sort of relationship that is disappointingly underrepresented.
Between her anecdotes, Jahren peppers the memoir with metaphors about plant life and our interconnectivity with nature in a seamless, reflective fashion. Quotes like “a cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet,” and more stem from these in betweens.
Her love of nature and commitment to her studies is inspiring. In a world where science is becoming increasingly less believed and increasingly less funded, her utter devotion and curiosity is something that has been bred out of many people, but is not absent in Jahren. The way she speaks about the earth proves to the reader that she loves nature in a similar way she would love a friend.
As a young female following in footsteps similar to Jahren’s, this book spoke to my core. I’ve felt the mix of emotions associated with walking into a large expo center full of mostly men— it’s intimidating, and it’s hard not to feel at least a little bit out of place. The cruel words Jahren is subjected to multiple times in her retellings speaks to the same emotions but to a greater extent. As a person, Jahren is endlessly impressive. Not because she’s perfect— but because she’s truthful, often painfully so at times. Her struggles with mental illness are not buried between lines to create a utopian memoir, but rather pushed to the surface, proving it is nothing to be ashamed of and quite frequently a difficult reality for many.
“Lab Girl” is unlike many books out there. If you want something that can speak to your soul, regardless of your background, this memoir is for you.