Book #75

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in, and taking over her father's beekeeping business.

Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.

And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can she trust him completely.

Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in him, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

Picoult has always had a talent for bringing social and political issues to light with her books. I remember reading many of these as a teenager and finding them engaging and informative. Eventually, the formula of issues, courtroom, more issues, twist, became a bit tiring for me and I’m now finding I haven’t read a Picoult novel in over twelve years or so.

Mad Honey is written by both Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, yet the narrative is so smooth it’s difficult to realise this is written by more than one author. Despite the issues, courtroom, twist formula still being very much in effect, here the twist comes in the middle and forces you to reconsider everything you’ve already learned about the characters.

The narrative is written from two differing perspectives - Olivia, mum and beekeeper, and Lily, who is the girlfriend of Olivia’s son. Olivia’s story begins and moves forward, whilst Lily’s begins and travels backwards chronologically. I found this quite jarring, but once I realised the direction we were going, I found it to be a really effective way to convey Lily’s story, and to build her character.

And although we had a twist in the middle, it wouldn’t be Picoult if there wasn’t a twist at the end. Vaguely predictable, and feeling very rushed, I don’t believe it had the impact it was intended to have, and I was disappointed. I can’t remember if most Picoult twists are shoehorned into the finale in this way or not, but it could’ve been done with some more care.

It seems a lot of reviewers have a problem with the LGBTQ+ focus in this book. Perhaps those reviewers should consider why that is. I didn’t, and never will, have a problem with this - my problem was very much with the bees. It was interesting to begin with, but once I really got into the plot I became infuriated with the swarms of bee information battering my head from all sides. I skipped quite a bit of it, sorry bees.

An enjoyable one nevertheless, and an important exploration into a life which is probably much different from your own. The struggles and obstacles in this life are important to understand and analyse, particularly if it leads you to understand and analyse yourself.