Grace Porter – call her Grace or Porter, she answers to both – is so not the kind of girl who gets married in Vegas after drinking too much champagne and yet she did. To a girl whose name she doesn’t know and who is gone before she wakes up, leaving a note and a business card and the magical smell of sea salt and herbs. Grace had a plan and the girl doesn’t fit in that plan but as Grace is starting to find out, life doesn’t really care about plans.
This is the kind of book that hurts and soothes at the same time. I love an author who can make me feel what their characters are going through, even when it’s painful. It’s all the more impressive as Honey Girl is a debut novel. Grace is going through a very hard time and she can’t come to terms with why. She’s always done the right thing, always followed the plan. She just finished her PhD in Astronomy and should be on top of the world. And she’s not. She’s burnt out, she’s depressed, she’s lost.
Some parts of what Grace is going through I could totally relate to – burn-out, depression, anxiety – and others I couldn’t – I’m a white woman from France – and I loved reading about them all. Morgan Rogers’ writing is very poetic, it’s both pretty and raw. One of my favourite books last year, or the year before, was The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus by Alanna McFall and there’s a quiet melancholy to Honey Girl that reminds me of that book. The stories are very different, it’s something in the writing, a feeling of walking so close to the edge while looking okay to the outside eye. Porter is very lucky to have people in her life who see her, even though so many others don’t, unable to accept that a girl with brown skin and sunshine hair could be an excellent astronomer and deserves to breathe the same air as them.
Which brings me to the secondary cast. Grace’s chosen family is one of the most fascinating I’ve met in lesfic. I don’t envy Grace the difficulties she’s facing but I certainly envy her the people she has standing by her at all times. Even her stiff military father and not-always-reliable mother turn out to be there for her. The world may be a dangerous and challenging place, but she’s not alone to face it.
I realise I haven’t written much about Yuki, the unexpected bride. She’s a mystery for a long time, until Grace finds it in herself to reach out. Yuki, a storyteller and monster-hunter, remains a mystery – at least to me – but she also feels familiar from the start. It takes talent to make me believe this non-relationship born from too much champagne and the need to escape the real world is worth fighting for, and Rogers definitely succeeded on that front.
Be warned, though: if you’re going into this book looking for romance, you’ll be disappointed. There’s a love story, but it’s not the most important part of the book. This story is about finding oneself and one’s place in the universe.
There’s maybe one area where this book isn’t perfect. The reader is told that Grace and Yuki are attracted to each other – who would drunk-marry someone they’re not at least a little attracted to? – and there clearly is a connection between them, but the way it’s written felt more emotional than physical. It worked pretty well for me, but don’t expect sparks and fireworks.
This book proves that you can write about mental health and systemic racism and do it with such beautiful and effective writing that it ends up being a warm hug after a lot of tears.