If you’re after the sort of novel that lulls you effortlessly into mindless slumber, this book is not for you! Where do I begin? Luckily for us all, Craig Silvey begins with the end in his latest rousing novel, Honeybee. It’s an end some of us may have contemplated at some point in life especially those of more tender years enduring emotional turmoil. It’s a beginning that catapults the reader into the tortured psyches of Sam and Vic, immediately establishing a powerful rapport between them and us, powerful enough to evoke first-class-page-turner status.
Sam is teetering on the brink of fifteen but his heart still beats with tween-aged naivety and contorts with young adult anxieties. Fatherless since birth, Sam scrambles from one decrepit address to another with his young incomeless mother. Their bond is tighter than spandex but her creative dreams are stymied by the need to make their frayed ends meet and a spiralling moral compass. Sam looks forward to growing up just like her into someone who is beautiful and self-assured if not slightly bruised around the edges, but he as he grows, his suspicions that this will never eventuate multiple.
Things take a horrific turn for the worst when Steve, his unofficial disreputable stepdad, strides in forcing the cosy dependable mum son dynamic into an ugly threesome. The emotions that overcome Sam are less about jealously and more to do with abject grief. He feels he is losing his mother, his lifeline and most telling of all, his sense of self.
Sam believes he is all wrong, a messed up mistake of a person in the wrong body who does the wrong things with no good reason to exist because he has no idea how to correct the ‘wrongness’. Meeting Vic is the thin catalyst of positive light Sam needs to claw his way out of a rotting shell of self-depreciation to self-love. But Vic is dying and strangled by demons of his own. His open hearted kindness is the first safe refuge Sam has experienced in a long while but Sam’s indelible disbelief in himself and a future with him in it continues to prickle and poison.
There is much to savour, slowly and carefully, in this considered and beautifully crafted novel about a girl in a boy’s body stuck in a revolving door of dread and despair and misfortune. Sam’s first person narrative is unadorned and tentative reflecting his fierce yet coveted desires and intense sense of hopelessness. He thinks and speaks with childlike candour and heart wrenching misery. This is sublimely counterbalanced by the tumbling waterfall of wit and wisdoms from Aggie Meemeduma, the girl across the road who becomes Sam’s best friend. Like Vic, Aggie and drag queen, Peter, the montage of characters in Honeybee is royal-jelly rich and unforgettable.
Humour backs horror in this coming of everything tale that is at once subtle and sublime, raw and searching. There were times I wanted to scoop Sam into my arms and squeeze him better but was too afraid I’d break him. Sam represents kids whose resilience belies their age and disguises a mosaic of cracked identities. Silvey gently weaves themes of facing ones fears, gender dysphoria, mental health, recovering from loss and grief and friendship (and cooking!) into a box office standard narrative that truly does encourage you to ‘find out who you are, and live that life’ without shame or hesitation.
And as for savouring this transcendent tale slowly; forget it. I devoured Honeybee in hours such was its all-consuming pull. Delicious but over all too quickly! If this isn’t optioned for an award winning film one day, I’ll swallow a hive full of honeybees. (I’m hedging my bets here judging by the slew of awards it’s already attracting). Highly recommended reading.
Author: Craig Silvey
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date: September 2020
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction