Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising a beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in, and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.
Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.
And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can she trust him completely . . .
Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in him, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.
Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.
Mad Honey is a collaboration between Jodi Picoult, an author whose books I’ve read and loved, and Jennifer Finney Boylan, a new author for me. They each took turns writing chapters, and it was impossible for me to tell whose writing was whom’s.
The story follows Olivia McAfee, a beekeeper who fell in love with and married a cardiac surgeon. But her dream becomes a nightmare when he husband reveals his dark side, so she flees with her son Asher to begin a new life. Years later, Asher, now in high school, begins dating Lily Campanella, a young woman who has recently moved into town with her mother. Lily has had quite a tough life up to this point, but now that she’s met Asher, she feels truly happy. Then, Olivia received a phone call from Asher: Lily has been murdered, and Asher is being questioned by police. As the story progresses, Olivia begins to fear that perhaps Asher is more like his father than she had thought. What follows is a compelling and compulsive murder mystery as two lives are closely examined, and painful secrets are revealed.
Mad Honey is told in alternating POVs and a non-linear timeline by Olivia and Lily. The format works perfectly, and I enjoyed how the story unravels slowly, a little at a time, from each of their perspectives. As we near the center of the novel, what starts out as a basic murder mystery (or so we think) switches into something else entirely — something much deeper and more complex. It transforms into a mysterious, deep, haunting story because, at its core, this novel is about identity, abuse, self-acceptance, intolerance, toxic relationships, and trust. That being said, it’s gut-wrenching at times as the book does delve into some pretty tough topics, but they are handled sensitively and compassionately by the authors. There is a deeper story within these pages, and part of the book speaks to the divisiveness of the world we live in and how, even in these “modern times,” small-minded views continue to exist and thrive.
Additionally, Mad Honey is a novel full of fascinating multidimensional characters. All of them, even the secondary ones, feel real and whole. None of them comes off as mere caricatures or types but are complex and well thought out. What was also impressive was the amount of meticulous research the authors must have done to write this story. I learned a lot about several things from this novel but to say any more about that would lead into spoiler territory.
All in all, I can’t begin to express how much I loved this book. Mad Honey is a cleverly layered, thought-provoking, heartbreaking page-turner by two talented authors that kept me guessing from the very first page and, ultimately, left me shocked, surprised, and thoroughly satisfied when it was over. A brilliant collaboration that gets all the stars from me.
A huge thank you to NetGalley and Ballentine books for providing me with a review copy of this novel.