Book Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Title: Honeybee

Author: Craig Silvey

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 421

Rating: A-

Recommended?: Yes

Honeybee is a raw and heartfelt coming-of-age tale that I raced through in only three days, despite it being over 400 pages long. The protagonist, Sam, is a fourteen-year-old transgender girl who befriends a lonely widower after they both prepare to commit suicide by jumping from the same bridge. Sam lives with her opioid-addicted mom and her mom’s abusive live-in boyfriend. She’s not allowed to express her gender identity and is forced to live in fear of the boyfriend and what he might do.

. The night Sam almost kills herself she meets Vic, a Vietnam veteran who’s terminally ill. Vic lets her stay at his house and as a thank-you she cooks for him. Sam also meets Aggie, an awesomely nerdy girl whose compassionate family takes Sam under their wing. Sam is kind of intrusive while living at Vic’s house, she reads his late wife Edith’s journals and wears her clothes without asking. Vic sees that Sam has a big heart, though, and realizes that she’s running from a bad family situation.

One night Vic takes Sam to a drag show, and they meet Fella Bitzgerald AKA Peter (a nurse who moonlights as a cross-dresser.) Peter AKA Fella also befriends Sam and becomes a member of her found family. Of course, Sam’s past is bound to catch up with her sooner or later and she must fight to be herself and hang on to the people she cares about. I loved the characters in this book. Good character development is the no. 1 most important thing to me while reading a novel, and I grew to care about Sam, Vic, Aggie, and Peter as rich and beautifully nuanced characters.

A lot of the novel is dark and depressing but there are also many moments of joy and hope in the characters’ lives, and they find comfort in reaching out to each other during difficult times. There’s a lot of harsh scenes of transphobic violence so that might be a trigger to some people who have trouble with that kind of thematic material. Even though it was satisfying to see Sam’s life get better at the end, things did seem to fall onto her lap to an unrealistic extent after a certain point.

Sam’s mom was a human trash bag and Sam should have told her not to let the door hit her on the way out. I know it’s probably hard to completely cut yourself off from the person who raised you but, in this case, it was very much warranted, and I wish that had gone in a different direction. Sam was never truly going to be free with her mom dragging her down. She had such a bad case of imposter syndrome as it was and never felt like she was good enough or deserved good things to happen to her.

The dialogue in this book was great, very naturalistic and engaging. Apparently, it’s young adult but it didn’t really have the feeling of a YA novel. I couldn’t exactly put a finger on why except there was a lack of banter and it felt unusually literary (I’m not dissing young adult fiction, by the way- it’s one of my favorite genres!)

One of the only parts of the story I didn’t like was the bank robbery, which was really implausible and didn’t fit in with the realistic feeling of the rest of the book. Otherwise, I really loved this book and felt thoroughly invested in the struggles of the main characters. I’d love to read more about Sam and what happens to her after the events of this novel, but I also liked how the author chose to end it.


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