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Book Review: Mad Honey

Written by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan | Reviewed by Chris Turner

Mad Honey follows the stories of Olivia and her son Asher and Ava and her daughter Lily. Both mothers uproot their lives and their kids as they leave abusive relationships and settle in a small New Hampshire town. The teenagers Asher and Lily meet near the end of high school, begin to date, and fall in love.

Their worlds are shattered when Lily is found dead, and Asher is questioned by the police. (This is not a spoiler as it is on the book flap and happens in the first chapter!)

If you are familiar with Jodi Picoult’s novels or Jennifer Finney Boylan’s NYTimes columns and novels, this novel will not disappoint. As is typical with Picoult’s novels, there are twists in the plot and surprises from the characters. The twists and surprises are intriguingly woven into the novel as it jumps back and forth in time. The time movement is not jarring, and instead helps the reader learn about the backstories of the characters and their relationships. The “reveals” along the way are aided by knowing what came before and how the characters got to where they are now.

Mad Honey’s characters delve into issues that the parents may not discuss with their teenagers, secrets that the teenagers may keep from their parents, domestic abuse, transgender issues, and possible self-harm. The novel has courtroom drama and surprises.

In a book discussion about Mad Honey, I heard some people lament the lack of strong male characters. I wonder if that comment arises because novels containing strong male characters have been somewhat of a default in our society. There are many strong female characters in Mad Honey who the reader wants to see succeed. But the strong female presence in the novel doesn’t detract from the strength & maturity of Asher the teenager or the male attorney, recurring character Jordan McAfee.

So why the title Mad Honey? Olivia is a beekeeper on an inherited family farm. Woven throughout the novel are scenes of Olivia tending the beehives and nuggets of wisdom about the queen bee and the interactions within the hive. The parallels with the human family unit, and especially those headed by the moms in the novel, are unmistakable.

Mad Honey asks us to consider: To what lengths will you go to support your family? What secrets do you keep from them? How far would you go to protect them? It’s a satisfying page-turner.

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