Book Review – Honeybee by Craig Silvey

I was asked what I was currently reading at an author event.

I replied ‘Honeybee by Craig Silvey, but it’s not a page turner’. As the event was queer focussed, gasps came from the audience. My fellow author and participant in this event, Rebecca Langham, came to my rescue once again as she often does when I put my foot in my mouth.

She explained on my behalf that we are both huge fans of Craig Silvey’s previous novel, Jasper Jones, which is definitely a page turner.

Why were there gasps?

Honeybee is about Sam, a teenager from a broken home who has gender identity issues. Something I wasn’t far enough into the book to realise when I answered. Thus the gasps.

In the first chapter Sam befriends Vic, an old widower who, like Sam, has given up the will to live.

‘Honeybee’ cover and author, Craig Silvey

Sam also befriends a wonderful drag queen, Fella Bitzgerald and Vic’s teen neighbour, Aggie, who both help him toward self acceptance. The scene where Sam is backstage while Fella and the ‘girls’ prepare for their performance is one of the highlights. It’s full of fast paced drag banter as they discuss wigs and make up while Sam becomes one step closer to understanding who he should be.

Aggie is just as fabulous as Fella.

Her parents are well off but she isn’t spoilt. She possesses confidence and wit which gives her dialogue sharp contrast to self-loathing Sam’s.

His mother is an addict and regularly picks losers as partners, and Sam’s devotion to her is both unwarranted and heartbreaking. He needs love and wrongly believes she can give it.

I think this is where the novel lost me a bit.

I recently read Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe which covers similar family disunity. The mother in it also has a heroin problem and the book has a much more ‘real’ feel to the survival tactics her sons employ.

But the final chapter of Honeybee won me over. The resolution Sam has with his mother while finally understanding how life should be, pulls this whole story together.

It’s a four star novel.

But then there’s the tale of a mysterious murder that leads to an unlikely friendship between a white boy and an older Aboriginal he looks up to. Throw in a 1960s country town, a mum who dreams of city life, and an Asian student who wins over the townsfolk racists, and you have Jasper Jones, a novel you can’t put down.

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