One of the books that was on my radar for February 2021 was Honey Girl, the debut novel by Morgan Rogers. It seemed like it would be a cute story with depth, and I was thrilled when it was a pick on Book of the Month. But did Honey Girl live up to the hype?
Grace Porter, a hardworking and intelligent overachiever, has just completed her PhD in astronomy. To celebrate this accomplishment, Grace takes a rare vacation with two of her best friends, Ximena and Agnes. But while in Las Vegas, Grace has a bit too much to drink, meets a girl, and… well… marries her. She barely remembers anything the next morning, but she knows this spontaneous marriage was not part of her life plan.
Back in Portland, Oregon, Grace is trying to get her head straight and figure our her job prospects. But in between moments of paralyzing anxiety about her career and her future, Grace finds solace in her long-lost bride.
Honey Girl follows Grace across the United States, tentatively getting to know her new wife, trying to find herself, and working to find peace between her two completely different (and long-divorced) parents.
Based on the summary of Honey Girl, I was prepared for a cute and quirky romance with dashes of true heart and depth. Unfortunately, I was only partly right. This novel is actually quite a bit heavier than I had anticipated, which can be either good or bad, depending on what you want out of a book right now.
To its merit, Honey Girl is a profound novel that dives into mental health in a way I don’t often see. In many ways, I related to Grace’s sense of directionless and feeling stuck, her desire to put everything on hold and run away from reality for a little while. Young adults can feel so much pressure and overwhelm when school is finally over and their whole life is ahead of them. In Grace’s case, though, it’s not just the average millennial experience; her father, a military colonel, has high expectations of his only child, and he can be hard on her. He instills constant perfectionism and professionalism in Grace, but is that always what she needs? Is it what’s healthy for her?
I greatly appreciated the exploration of mental illness in Honey Girl. And be forewarned, it does get into some difficult content, both with Grace and with some of the other characters: depression, anxiety, perfectionism, self-harm, and more.
Playing a role in some of these are Grace’s family issues. Her parents couldn’t be more different: Her father is strict and demanding; her mother is a free spirit who’s easy-going and comforting, if somewhat absent. Neither has been a perfect parent to Grace, but both have gone about things they way they thought was best. Honey Girl does a good job of exploring daughter-parent relationships, in this case of an adult woman and her divorced parents who live on opposite sides of the country.
Friendships also play a major role here. Grace is very close with her two roommates, Ximena and Agnes, as well as her two co-workers, the siblings Raj and Meera. On the one hand, it was nice to see such supportive and strong friendships; these people are there for each other, through thick and thin. But I admit, I had a hard time taking these friends seriously. They’re all super expressive of their love for each other, and surprisingly touchy. I’m not sure if I’m just aloof and frigid or what, but I’ve never been that lovey with my friends. I found the interactions in Honey Girl over-the-top.
Let’s finally talk about the romance in this book. Grace marries a girl named Yuki Yamamoto, who lives in New York City. I like Yuki’s character, though I wish we got to know her a bit more intimately. Their relationship is pretty gentle, building up slowly despite the marriage. Although Grace spends some weeks living with Yuki, they take their time getting to know each other, not rushing into the kissing and sex. They connect as fellow lonely creatures, perhaps a bit monstrous, but so fragile, too. It’s a sweet relationship, but it never really takes on the primary role here. Again, I went into this hoping for a cute romance, but that’s just not the kind of book Honey Girl is.
That said, queerness is a big part of the book. It’s not just Grace and Yuki, who both identify as lesbians. Most of their respective friends are part of the LGBTQ+ community, whether bisexual or gay or transgender. Their sexuality or gender identity is never made out to be problematic, and it’s good to see a cast of characters that is queer and (generally) happy and fulfilled. I appreciate that Grace’s sexuality, for example, was never a source of strain in this story. Likewise, the cast of characters is racially diverse. Grace is biracial, with a white mother and black father. Others in the book are Asian, Latinx, and Native American.
For all the good (and some less good) that I’ve mentioned so far, I do have to point out a few more things that didn’t work for me:
- Early on, we learn that Grace Porter has had the idea that “Porters do ____” and “Porters never _____” instilled in her. That’s fine; it’s important to learn where a character is coming from or what their mentality is. But why the need to be saying it and thinking it all. of. the. time?! Repetition is one thing, but this was overdone and became pretty irksome by the end of the book. We get it already, Grace can’t do X because Porters never do X. Please communicate this in a new way.
- This is more silly than truly annoying, but what is with Grace and Yuki constantly calling each other by their full name? Again, this was something that could have been cute and contextual, but ended up being rather irritating because it was so overdone.
- Is it just me, or did Honey Girl come to a particularly sudden ending? My copy ends on page 293 when Grace says “maybe I believe in your monster, too.” And it just… stops right there? I’ve read my fair share of abrupt endings, but this one legitimately made me wonder if I was missing a few pages. It felt like I was in the middle of a scene and it just cut out randomly.
All in all, Honey Girl has a lot of great things about it, but some elements that were weird or annoying, or I just simply didn’t relate to. Luckily, this is the debut novel from Morgan Rogers, so hopefully we’ll see some of these rough edges smooth out over her next books.
Honey Girl is a thought-provoking and powerful novel about mental health, relationships, ambition, and finding your own future. It’s not the fun romance I was expecting, and it does have some oddities, but it also has a lot of merit, and it promises more to look out for from Morgan Rogers.
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