Jodi Picoult is an author whose stories could have the secondary title: Ripped From Today’s Headlines. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes she genuinely hits it out of the ballpark, such as with Nineteen Minutes. Other times, it left me with a feeling like the story was trying too hard or missed the mark, such as with The Book of Two Ways.
The topic she focuses on in Mad Honey is transgenderism. I didn’t know that going in, and it snuck up on me. If you can pick up the book just knowing that it’s going to come up, it’s an excellent read and I won’t spoil it any more than that.
Olivia McAfee leaves Boston behind after an abusive marriage and retreats with her son, Asher, to the small New Hampshire town where she grew up. She takes over caring for her father’s bees, while Asher fits in nicely at the local high school. Everything seems to be going great. Asher even finds a girlfriend in another new kid in town, Lily Campanello. Olivia likes Lily quite a bit, but Lily’s mother, Ava, isn’t so sure.
Then comes the call every parent dreads. Olivia gets a call that Lily was found dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is worried that Asher has inherited some of his father’s temper, despite the fact that she got him away from his father at a young age. As with most Picoult books, there’s a trial where small-town secrets come to light.
I felt that Mad Honey was one of the stronger Picoult books I’ve read. It really delves into the question of what is love. There are all kinds of love in the world. Does the love a parent has for a child blind them to the possibility that their child is a murderer? Do we love people or do we love souls? How far would you go for love? Is love truly unconditional or do we attach so many conditions to it to protect ourselves and others from harm?
Even after reading this, I still couldn’t answer all of those questions, but instead saw the story of a pure love of sorts, where two people accept each other as they are and love them for it. Too many people are together these days who don’t have that; they have an image in their brains of what love is supposed to be like and expect the other person to fit into it. They don’t accept the person as is, but expect them to fit into the life they have pictured in their mind.
The characters here are great. Picoult switches between viewpoints although we don’t know exactly what each of them knows until it’s revealed through the trial. Olivia’s brother, Jordan is a lawyer seen in another Picoult book, Nineteen Minutes. He hits it out of the park here as well as he takes on Asher’s case and ends up frustrated by his client’s decisions, as well as the fact that he’s not being told everything by Asher.
There are a lot of flashbacks by Olivia to the abuse she experienced. These can be disturbing to read, especially for people who have experienced it. The one part that really didn’t ring true for me was how reticent Olivia was to talk to her ex-husband and get the money she needs for Asher’s bail. I would have moved heaven and earth to get my child out of jail, and if talking to my ex was the only option, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I understand she’s an abuse survivor, but she’s also a mother and sometimes that means putting aside your own feelings to do what’s best for your children. I could understand her fear if the situation had been her ex making her jump through hoops for the money, but she asks and he gives it to her with no problem.
This leads into my other issue with the book. New Hampshire, and by extension the four northern New England states, are something of a small town. We hear on the news about what happens in Massachusetts all the time. It’s hard to believe that a murder case as sensational as this is in a state like New Hampshire wouldn’t be all over the news even in Massachusetts. Asher’s name would be all over the news. I can’t believe that his father, who is a surgeon in Boston, would have remained ignorant of the situation until Olivia comes to him.
I learned a lot about being transgendered and what people who are go through in regard to changing their bodies to match what they feel. I had my own concerns about young kids possibly going through “a phase” and their bodies were being transformed in a way they might regret later. However, I also have an open mind and will listen to people who know the subject more than I do and I learned a lot from Mad Honey. I also learned a lot about bees and honey!
Open-minded individuals will likely enjoy Mad Honey. There’s a great deal of substance here and a lot we can learn from.