Well, if the simply stunning cover doesn’t make you want to pick this one up and see what it’s all about, I don’t know what to tell you, because damn *heart eyes.* But then there’s the premise: a recently graduated PhD in astronomy goes on a girls trip to Vegas to celebrate and gets married and upends her entire life plan and makes her rethink everything. I mean – what’s not to want to read more about?! So yea, color me Team “Let’s Read this Novel ASAP.”
“It’s ok to admit that something can be best just because it makes you happy, and not because you had to tear yourself apart to get there.”
I already mostly gave away the plot with my intro paragraph there, but let me just add a little more. Grace Porter, our MC, has all her life planned out to the tiniest details, based on her internalization of her strict military father’s expectations and warnings. But her one night of letting go in Vegas leads her to ask questions about her life, why she’s made the choices she has and what comes next, now that her boxes are mostly checked but aren’t leading where she was hoping for them to lead (or at least not as easily as she hoped hard work would pave the way for). So, she leaves for a summer in NYC, to get to know her stranger of a wife and to try and figure out what’s next for her and how to deal with all the “messiness of adulthood” that real life is throwing at her.
Let me just start by saying that, similar to Queenie, I think this book was woefully mis-marketed. They were both sold as contemporary romances, and while they both absolutely had romantic aspects, they were not at all like what I typically expect when picking up a contemporary romance (think Guillory’s The Wedding Date or Hibbert’s Get a Life, Chloe Brown for example). That being said, I really liked both Queenie AND this novel. Like, I truly did. But I did not get what I expected based on “similar read” comparisons. This was such a more introspective and self-growth novel than it was about any typical “romance” trope or plot. Just something I wanted to get off my chest before starting.
And now, to the important point: I did absolutely enjoy Honey Girl. Let me just say that the crushing feeling of being lost, the “what next” after graduating (after all the clear steps have been achieved and the future ahead is open and unknown), the second-guessing and constant stress of living up to internalized expectations is something I strongly identify with. This millennial is here for the detrimental mental health effects of the “being the best at all personal costs and in an individualistic way” mindset that Grace Porter was stuck in. And that’s even without the added pressure and stress of being in an intensely cis-hetero white male dominated field as a queer Black woman. (Worth nothing here: I’m white, and also, at least within my experience, public health is a very woman-dominated and open-minded field, which is just…an unquantifiable privilege in the present-day reality.) So, with Grace Porter and her mental state being highly relatable to this reader, this was a much more intense read than I had been anticipating. Much less fluff than I’d originally planned for. But I think that did make the story stronger, more human, in the end. Grace’s journey to realizing her own best was difficult, and of course not at all close to done when we leave her, but the way she began to open up to others and let them in and show vulnerability and claim what she wanted/didn’t want for herself and come to terms with her parents’ decisions/treatment of her was inspiring and I loved reading it. Plus, I’m always a fan of positive rep for finding a good therapist and taking mental health seriously.
As far as the “getting to know my wife, the stranger” aspect, that was hit or miss for me, to be honest. I absolutely loved Yuki’s radio show – the mythological stories and the exploration of what monsters are, where the come from, how they’re made, etc. was fascinating and also a very cute way to tie in both Grace and Yuki feeling alone and unlovable until they found each other. Plus, I think the role Yuki played, both as an impetus (with the Vegas marriage) and then over the NYC summer, in allowing Grace to experience a different lifestyle and space to start to question her “set-in-stone” life plans, were key to Grace’s growth and also, actually pretty believable. However, I definitely thought the actual relationship between the two didn’t feel natural. I don’t know what it was exactly. Their way of talking to each other felt a little stilted, which would have made sense at first, but never seemed to smooth out, despite us being told they were growing closer, etc. And the spark between them just never felt strong enough to ignite, IMO. I liked that the focus was more on their emotional connection, rather than the physical, because I think that’s underrepresented in a lot of romance, but it still just never materialized into something I fully bought into.
Let me just close out by saying that this is one of those books where the friends, all of them, Grace’s many friends and Yuki’s as well, were a highlight. I loved them all. I loved reading about them and their quirks and their unconditional support for, and calling out of (as necessary), each other. They felt solid and nuanced and I just enjoyed all the parts they were involved in, the great and the uglier. Plus, the casual sexuality, the way that it’s a part of many of these characters identities without being the primary focus or struggle of the novel, is a phenomenal and crucial representation.
I wish I had had a better idea of the vibe of this book before going into it, because mentally I needed the fluff and I didn’t really get it. But I truly appreciated, and, as I said, deeply felt, the story that I actually ended up with. There were parts that I liked more than others, or believed more than others, but at the end of it, the message of who gets to define a person’s best for them (including factors from family to friends to society and the history of racism and how that plays into how possible that “best” is to achieve in the first place) is so critical. And I think that allowing those pieces to affect romance in the way this book does is, actually, an angle and awareness that’s quite important to bring to the table and explore. So, heavier than anticipated, but a worthy heft.