Mad Honey is a compulsively readable novel by two of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan. It’s about two single moms in small-town Adams, New Hampshire, and their high school-age kids. Olivia is a beekeeper and entrepreneur. Her son Asher is the school’s hockey team captain and an artist. Ava is a forest ranger researching lynx. Her daughter Lily is a cellist and fencer.
Being the new kid in town isn’t unique for Lily since she and Ava have moved a couple of times in the last few years. Lily and Asher meet through friends and soon start dating. It’s not a spoiler to say that Lily dies unexpectedly—it’s in the publisher blurb. The tale of Mad Honey is what happens when Asher is accused of killing her. Picoult and Finney Boylan spin a compelling yarn with well-formed characters and topics tied to real-life issues.
Finney Boylan and Picoult use two voices to tell the story, Olivia’s and Lily’s. Everything we learn about Asher and Ava is through their eyes. The authors also move the timeline back and forth, which pulls the curtain back slowly. The suspense is worth it. Their conclusion is a satisfying resolution of a complex situation.
A central theme of Mad Honey is reinvention. Olivia grew up as a small-town kid but married an accomplished Boston surgeon. She returns to her hometown to heal from unexpected troubles when the marriage goes sour. As Olivia copes with Asher’s situation, we learn more about her life and her fears for her son. Picoult also teaches readers about Olivia’s beekeeping career. Bee-related analogies abound here since hives are much like small towns and high schools.
While she is younger than Olivia, Lily’s no stranger to reinvention. She and Ava also flee a complicated marital situation. But her story is more profound than Olivia’s and just as dark. Her tragic end is heartbreaking, especially because she seems to find true love with Asher.
Picoult and Finney Boylan explore relationships and parenting styles along with identities. There’s plenty of food for thought woven through the suspenseful plot. They seamlessly blend their writing styles. I was so involved with the story that I rarely thought about who wrote what. Still, Lily’s story deserves Finney Boylan’s perspective and wisdom.
Overall, Mad Honey is just what I want in a novel. It delivers insights into relationships, personalities, and life experiences with a healthy dose of suspense. Brava to both authors!
Thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group, Ballantine Books, and the authors for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. The expected publication date for this book is Tuesday, October 4, 2022.