Review: Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Mad HoneyAbout this book

(Blurb from Exclusive Books)

Olivia fled her abusive marriage to return to her hometown and take over the family beekeeping business when her son Asher was six. Now, impossibly, her baby is six feet tall and in his last year of high school, a kind, good-looking, popular ice hockey star with a tiny sprite of a new girlfriend.

Lily also knows what it feels like to start over – when she and her mother relocated to New Hampshire it was all about a fresh start. She and Asher couldn’t help falling for each other, and Lily feels happy for the first time. But can she trust him completely? Then Olivia gets a phone call – Lily is dead, and Asher is arrested on a charge of murder.

As the case against him unfolds, she realises he has hidden more than he’s shared with her. And Olivia knows first-hand that the secrets we keep reflect the past we want to leave behind – and that we rarely know the people we love well as we think we do.


My Thoughts

Jodi Picoult is quickly turning into one of my “auto-buy” authors.  Who am I kidding, after this book, she is.  She has got a way to address relationships and social issues that aren’t always easy to discuss in public, and this has landed some of her books on the banned books lists in some school districts in the USA.  I’ve only read two of her previous works before – “House Rules” (with Jacob Hunt, a teen with Asperger’s syndrome), and “Small Great Things (tackling race, privilege and justice).  The amount of research and empathy that goes into all Jodi’s work is simply astounding.

So, when her newest book (co-authored with Jennifer Finney Boylan) was published recently, I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on it as a matter or urgency (with deep gratitude and thanks to Exclusive Books).

To take a step back, the back story of how this book came about deserves a mention.  Jennifer Finney Boylen, a bestselling author and transgender activist, woke up one morning after a very vivid dream.  She dreamt that the wrote a book with Jodi Picoult, one of her own personal favourite authors.  What a dream!  It was so vivid and real, she decided to share her dream on social media and tagged Jodi into her post.  Minutes later Jodi sent her a DM, curious to find out what the book was all about, what did she have in mind?  After sharing the brief summary of this dream book, Jodi immediately agreed that this sounds like a brilliant idea – and the rest, as they say, is history.  Yes, it took 5 years for this dream to come to fruition, due to various other authoring commitments, but in 2020, with the world in lockdown, it was the perfect opportunity to get this done.  What a wonderful story, don’t you think?

Mad HoneyIt is a bit challenging to share what the book is about, without any spoilers. Let me just say that “the twist” was totally unexpected!  This murder mystery court drama is told from two point of views, one being Olivia and the other Lily.  The authors shared that they made the decision that Jodi would write Olivia and Jennifer wrote Lily’s chapters.  They did swop around for one chapter and the challenge is for the readers to figure out which one.  All this ‘behind the scene’ details I only learnt of after I finished reading the book, as I preferred to go into this ‘blind’, but the story-telling is so uniform and seamless, I didn’t notice that two different authors wrote this book.  It was fantastic! I could not put this book down; it was a thrilling and engaging read.

At the core are the themes of identity and for how long you should carry your past with you, and feel the need to have to declare it, despite desperately trying to reinvent yourself to get away from it.  It is about how much a mother would do to save her child.

Olivia is a beekeeper and I learnt so much about a topic I thought I had no interest in!  The hierarchy in the hive, the role of the Queen, seasonal changes, etc was fascinating.  Remember what I said about the way Jodi researches and educates?  With Queen bees named “Beyonce” and “Lady Gaga”, those sections were such a joy to read. And I was just craving honey on warm toast every time I read about this!  Of course, this is used to translate what it means to be a female in society as well, it was captivating and ingenious.

When it comes to Lily, I adored the way she made lists of certain topics and happenings.  Her list of top 5 things she learnt about the Bible was my favourite.

I mentioned earlier that some of Jodi’s works have got a way to end up on ‘banned books’ lists, so you can figure out that there are some controversial topics, opinions and triggers present within the story.  I found the way that these were addressed by both authors were insightful, sensitive and I am a more knowledgeable in empathic person after reading this book.

A few favourite quotes:

“…being a woman has meant being someone who gets talked over in conversations or ignored; someone who gets judged as a body instead of as a sentient soul; someone who, no matter who you are or what you are doing, always has to be on guard, lest someone else decide that you’re going to be his victim.”

“If you want to understand something, you first need to accept the fact of your own ignorance. And then, you need to talk to people who know more than you do, people who have not just thought about the facts, but lived them.”

“How similar does someone have to be to you before you remember to see them, first, as human?”

“Sometimes, making the world a better place just involves creating space for the people who are already in it.”

“In the absence of knowledge, the mind is an amazing Tilt-A-Whirl of worst-case scenarios.”

A full five star read! One of my favourite books of 2022.

  • Murder Mystery
  • Courtroom Drama
  • Marginalised community
  • Search for Identity
  • Secretive Past

RRR (Roelia Reads Rating) 5/5


The details:

  • International Publishing Date 04 October 2022
  • Published in South Africa by Jonathan Ball Publishers
  • Pages: 464
  • Genre:  Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

Buy this book here:   https://www.exclusivebooks.co.za/product/9781473692466


About the authors:




Read an excerpt here:  https://www.jodipicoult.com/mad-honey.html#excerpt