Thursday 6 April 2023

The Honeys

The Honeys by Ryan La Sala (PUSH Scholastic Inc.) Young Adult ISBN 978-1-338-74531-3

Reviewed by Susan Hancy

Wow – what a book! At first, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it; the opening scene is sudden and violent and told from the point of view of a gender-fluid 17-year-old whose estranged twin sister tries to murder him, but instead crashes to her own premature death. I was quickly hooked, however, by the beauty of the language used by the author, the revealing of the inner strength of the protagonist, Mars, and the desire to know what evil drove his sister, Caroline, to such a surprising and aggressive violent act.

Mars, short for Marshall Matthias the Third, is the son of a New York senator and an ultra-conservative father who both seem more concerned with keeping up appearances than the welfare of their children. After the death of his popular and high-performing sister, Mars is wracked with guilt that he had not reached out to support her earlier; he had seen her become increasingly withdrawn over the past year and suspected she was carrying some unbearable load. Mars needs answers and to get these he must return to the summer camp, Aspen, which his sister had been attending for years and where she spent the last few weeks of her life. The challenge for Mars is that he hasn’t been back there in the last four years – not since he experienced his own unforgettable horror perpetrated by other kids bullying him because of his gender-fluidity.

Mars arrives part-way through the summer camp and we learn about the decades old gender-assuming traditions that the boys and the girls participate in with gusto. The camp director pays respects to the memory of Caroline, but is not particularly happy to have Mars back, especially when Mars reminds her that he could still sue the camp for the incident four years ago which he narrowly survived. The camp director assigns her nephew, Wyatt, to look out for Mars since Mars is not readily accepted by the other boys in his cabin. Wyatt is also always around to keep an eye on Mars, per orders of the camp director who is wary of Mars’s intentions. Unlike the other boys, Wyatt doesn’t discriminate and a genuine relationship appears to develop between him and Mars. Mars also proves a surprise packet for the macho boys in his cabin, excelling at certain events, while at the same time remaining true to himself by not buckling to the pressure to conform and by expressing himself how he wants.

In his rejection of the toxic masculinity of the boys in general, Mars becomes close to the girls who were the best friends and cabin mates of Caroline, “the Honeys”. Their cabin is remotely located from the rest of camp along with the apiary and they’re responsible for the care of the bees. Mars suspects the answers he is seeking lie with getting to know the girls better. They welcome him into their fold, to the wariness of Wyatt and the disgust of the boys. When one of the Honeys goes missing and her existence appears to have been erased from the collective memory of the camp members, Mars investigates further, hoping it will reveal what happened to Caroline. What he discovers is an unbelievable horror and there’s no one he can trust.

The last quarter of the book is a series of twists, revelations, shocks, willing for Mars to survive, more twists, more revelations, more shocks as all the loose ends are stuck back together like swirls of honey. The strength of sibling love prevails and the outcome is satisfying for both Mars and the reader, while leaving the possibility of other-worldly dimensions as something for the reader to contemplate upon finishing the last page.

I highly recommend this book for older readers (15+ years).



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