CW/TW: self-harm, discussion of previous suicide attempt by a side character
After 11 years of college, Grace Porter finally has her PhD in astronomy. Grace is the very best of the best, so every door should be open to her.
…because she’s biracial, that’s not the case.
When she goes for an interview lined up by her advisor, Grace is picked apart by an all-White panel and leaves with tears behind her eyes.
Grace drowns her sorrows in way too much alcohol during a post-graduation trip to Las Vegas. When she wakes up alone, Grace finds a wedding ring on her finger, a photo of herself with a cute Asian girl at a chapel, and a business card for a radio show about monsters.
When Grace is back at home in Portland, still with no idea who she married, everything about her life feels too hard. This is because she spent years grinding herself down so she could prove to her father that her plan for her life (astronomer) was better for her than his plan (medical doctor). Now, in addition to disillusionment, she’s stuck with a severe case of burnout and no clue what her next step should be.
So, when Grace calls her new wife, Yuki, and they get along really well, she takes off to New York City to recover and spend the summer getting to know Yuki. They fall quickly and deeply in love, but Grace has a major choice to make when her problems follow her to Yuki’s apartment: stick with her original plan of only going after the best job in her industry, no matter the cost, or find a way to make space for her own happiness.
First thing first: Honey Girl is not a romance. That said, it has a very strong, swoonworthy romantic element to it. Before Grace contacts Yuki, she has fond flashes of memories of their one night together in Vegas. And when they get on the phone, text, and/or spend time together in person, they have palpable, adorable chemistry. Check out this text exchange, which takes place when Grace texts Yuki that she’s staring at her ceiling and Yuki asks what she sees:
stars. i have glow in the dark stars all over my ceiling.
omg you’re a space nerd
Grace 8:20 p.m.
space doctor actually. i got my phd back in december
holy shit. and you married a waitress who spends her free time telling scary stories
i like your stories.
they make me feel like i am not alone
they remind me of that
alone, i mean
My heart turned into a sobbing emoji when I read this because COME ON, ALREADY! I melted all over again when Grace asks if she can kiss Yuki and waits for her answer, and there are so many other times where I just could not with how lovely they are together. I adored watching them get to know each other and then seeing that fondness turn into love. I fully believe in their HEA and am ready to fight anyone who would try to fuck with them.
Of course, if it’s not a romance, that begs the question: what is it? To me, it’s more like a coming of age story, with Grace having to figure out who she is at 28. I loved this SO much, because I don’t know anyone who had all their shit together at that age either, especially if they were in academia. This story is about Grace dealing with the fallout of her perfect plan unravelling during its final act, and how it’s compounded by a massive case of burnout and a mental health crisis. As someone who’s lived through burnout (both in academia and during my professional career), it felt very real. I especially appreciated this conversation between Grace and a therapist, which encapsulates the story’s central theme, that no one actually knows what they’re doing:
“Sometimes it feels like I’m too old for this. I’m about to turn 29. Like, while I was busy getting a PhD everyone else was figuring all this stuff out. I feel so behind.”
“You give other people too much credit, okay?” Blue says. “Everyone’s just pretending they have it together, because they don’t realize everyone else is pretending to have it together. None of our dumbasses actually have it together.”
Also, how great is it that part of her journey includes therapy? Very, very great, since it a) shows how important therapy is, and b) Grace models good behaviours in relation to therapy.
More on Grace and therapy.
Grace doesn’t click with the first therapist she meets or the second. I love that, rather than settling for a bad fit or bailing on therapy, she keeps trying until she finds a good match who will be able to help her get back to a state of mental wellness.
The writing in this story was a delight, because it is *chef’s kiss* good. At times it made me laugh my ass off, like when Grace makes a joke that the truth is out that her stepmom, Sharone, is a gold digger, and Sharone cracks back that it was never a secret.
And, at many other times, I was awed by how exquisite and perfect some passages were. For example, when Grace shares how disheartened she is with the trajectory of her life, her academic advisor responds:
“You are made up of stars and the black, glittering universe,” she says quietly. “It may be too romantic for most of the people in this field, but it’s true. But you are still just a human. Just a small thing that has to find its way like everyone else in this enormous world. It will not be simple, Grace Porter, and it will not be easy. You may have to make a lot of noise, and the universe’s silence can be oppressive and thick. But you want them to hear you, and they will. So do not, not even for one second, stop making noise.”
There are so many other passages that are just as beautifully written as that one! I highlighted more times than I care to admit because I wanted to be able to go back and enjoy them again.
Honey Girl is also incredibly inclusive. Grace is biracial, with a Black father and a White mother with blonde hair (hence Grace’s golden hair and Yuki’s “honey girl” nickname for her). Yuki is Japanese, her roommate Sani is a Native American trans guy, and Grace and Yuki have various friends and family who are Black or Indian, most of whom are also queer.
On a related note, Honey Girl is also a fabulous choice if you’re looking for found family representation. Both Yuki and Grace have built families of choice who are there for them 100% of the way. Sometimes that means making Grace food when she can’t muster the will to feed herself, and sometimes it’s giving her the loving asskicking she needs. I want to be friends with these people, because their love is so authentic and beautiful.
I dropped a couple of content/trigger warnings above and it’s important for readers to have details and context. I’m putting the full explanation in a spoiler tag, so you can decide. It also includes an explanation of an ethical concern I have around a side character that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book, but left me wondering.
About those CW/TWs
There is portrayal of self harm directly on the page. Whenever Grace is too stressed out, she scratches her arms or digs her nails into her hands until she’s bleeding. This happens several times. Sometimes her friends are there to stop her and sometimes they aren’t.
As for the suicide attempt, it’s explained as backstory for how Grace and her best friend/roommate, Ximena, gained another best friend/roommate named Agnes. Ximena is a nurse and she met Agnes when Agnes was in the psych ward after a suicide attempt. Something in Ximena called to her about Agnes and they welcomed her into their friend group.
Also, while this is a minor issue, this backstory gave me pause as an ethical question. Can a nurse and patient become friends like that? Graphic details around Agnes’s suicide attempt aren’t shared beyond Ximena telling Grace that her wrists were bandaged, which is also a problem because Ximena is violating Agnes’s privacy.
One last word of minor caution: Honey Girl opens with a prologue that’s in the second person. This means that the reader IS Grace for the prologue. In case that’s still not clear, here’s a line that illustrates how it works:
She says, “Let’s get one of these,” and points to the locks. Their shiny surfaces barely echo the originals, but a pretty girl asks, and you say yes.
This is important to know because second person can be a massive turnoff for some readers and it doesn’t always work for me. Frankly, when I read it, I thought, “Ooh no, I seriously hope the whole book isn’t like this.” It’s not! The rest of the story is told in the third person, solely following Grace’s perspective. If you picked this up and bailed during the prologue because of the second person writing, I am begging you to try it again, because Honey Girl is SO good that it’s worth it.
Can you tell I loved Honey Girl? Because I very loved it, as my youngest kiddo would say. So far, it’s the best book I’ve read all year and I’m grateful that I picked it up. If you can handle the warnings, I cannot recommend it enough, and I will come back to Honey Girl again and again for its characters and the beautiful writing.