Bibliophile | ‘Mad Honey’ sees Jodi Picoult collaborate with Jennifer Finney Boylan

Mad Honey
by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
Allen & Unwin

Olivia McAfee never expected to be an apiarist like her father; she never thought she’d be sleeping in her childhood bedroom as an adult and, never in her wildest dreams, did she imagine she would settle on the New Hampshire farm that she and her brother Jordan couldn’t wait to leave.

Ava Campanello was also after new start for herself and her daughter Lily who was in her final year at high school. When Lily becomes friends with Olivia’s son Asher, she feels happy for the first time, but she doesn’t know whether she can trust him with her secret.

There is a spoiler alert at the beginning of the novel because it starts with a death, before going back and forwards in time, adding tantalising crumbs of information to put the whole story together. Lily is found dead and Asher is immediately questioned by the police as he was the one who supposedly discovered her body.

Both teenagers have abusive fathers in the background. Asher can’t forgive his father for what he did to his mother but he still wants to spend time with him, without his mother knowing. Lily’s father is not part of her life because he is a “poisonous fuck” who would wreck her world if he knew where she was.

When Asher is arrested and charged with the murder, Olivia staunchly defends her son, but she also recognises flashes of his father’s dangerous temper in him. As the trial unfolds, she finds that her son has hidden more than he has shared with her and she knows that there is one honey that must be avoided at all costs – the potentially deadly mad honey that is full of poisonous toxins.

The past echoes through the present as people take turns to tell their stories. Four weeks before her death, Lily admitted that she was feeling the weight of her past. “Sometimes it is like my legs have bound with anchor chains, and I’ve been thrown off a ship into the cruel ocean, and all I can do is sink.”

Jodi Picoult, who has written twenty-seven best-selling novels, spent a Covid year collaborating with Jennifer Finney Boylan, a Trans woman who is also Professor of English at Colby College in Maine. Picoult was aware that Lily’s story was not hers to tell and their combined voices make a very powerful and moving story.

As Picoult says, “We are all flawed, complicated, wounded dreamers; we have more in common with one another than we don’t. Sometimes making the world a better place just involves creating a space for the people who are already in it.”

Lezly Herbert

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