A Beautiful Portrayal of the Complexities of Gender and a Mother’s Love

A soul-stirring novel about what we choose to keep from our past, and what we choose to leave behind.

Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising a beautiful son, Asher—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.

Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves. 

Goodreads Synopsis



*NOTE: This review contains spoilers*

Quick Take

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan is a heart wrenching and eye-opening novel about young love, death, gender, and of course, beekeeping. I couldn’t help but tear through this book until I reached the heart stopping conclusion. It is a must read that left me forever changed.

Tell Me More

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan is written in alternating chapters between Olivia and Lily. Olivia is the single mother of Asher, a teenage boy who fell deeply in love with Lily, a girl who recently was new at his school. Unfortunately, Lily is found dead, and Asher is accused of killing her. The chapters go back and forth into the future and past while the overall story follows Asher’s court case. Olivia is a beekeeper who escaped an abusive marriage, and while the book follows Lily’s death, it also explores abusive relationships, gender, and young love.

“Here’s what they do not tell you about falling in love: there’s not always a soft landing beneath you. It’s called falling, because it’s bound to break you.”

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

I have been a Jodi Picoult fan since I first read The Pact back when I was a teenager (which has been my favorite book of all time ever since), and I have read most of the rest of her books since then. Therefore, I was excited to learn that Mad Honey was coming out and that she had co-written it with Jennifer Finney Boylan. I was going to wait until I could find the book secondhand eventually, but when I found a signed copy of the book, I couldn’t help myself. I can honestly say that I am so glad that I picked it up and read it when I did. It is one of the best books I have ever read, and that is not an exaggeration. It is a book that challenges your beliefs, makes you think, and leaves a mark on you that you can never remove. While Jodi’s novels all involve very intense storylines and challenge the reader’s beliefs and viewpoints, there was just something about this book that was even more special – and it has a lot to do with the addition if Jennifer Finney Boylan’s perspective.

Unfortunately, due to the hype around this book I already knew about one of the major “surprises” that was revealed a little way into the book, and for the sake of my review I do need to address it. Lily is revealed as being a transgender woman, which contributes to the controversy surrounding her death. Author Jennifer Finney Boylan is a transgender woman herself, and her personal experiences gave great depth to Lily’s character. Learning about Lily’s history with her father was heartbreaking and following her as she transitioned to a woman was beautiful. I have never read Finney Boylan’s work before, but since reading this book I am now very interested in pursuing her books.

“I guess there are different kinds of depression. There’s the kind that just crushes you for no reason, what Mom calls the clinical kind. But this isn’t that. This is the other kind, the kind that comes because the things that have happened to you are actually just unbelievably, heartbreakingly sad.”

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

The beauty of Mad Honey is that it educates the reader on the transgender experience, while also confronting hate and prejudice. While this novel could have very easily been “preachy”, it was not that way at all. Instead, it wormed its way into my mind and heart, and left me thinking about it for days afterward.

“‘Just be yourself,’ they tell you. Worried about how you’ll come off if you’re interviewing for something? Just be yourself. Wondering what to say or how to act on a first date? Just be yourself. Looking for the words to describe the impossible? ‘Just be yourself,’ they tell you, to put you at ease. As if just being yourself is so easy. As if, for so many people, it isn’t the very thing that most puts you at risk in this cruel and heartless world.”

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

There was so much going on with this novel, but each element was interweaved beautifully with the next. I enjoyed learning a lot about bees and beekeeping, and the prose was absolutely gorgeous. All of the characters were vivid and complex, but I do wish that some of them, particularly Lily’s mom and Asher’s best friend, were more fleshed out. The shock at the end of the novel was heart stopping as well, but it felt a bit rushed. Other than that, this novel was a masterpiece.

If you are up for a novel that will challenge your ideals, confront any hidden prejudices you may have, and change your perspective, Mad Honey is a must read. I plan on reading it over and over again, and it has made my list of the best books I have ever read.

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