Michael James says Honeybee by Craig Silvey will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
Fourteen-year-old Sam stands on a bridge.
It’s late at night.
Sam is lost in their own pain, struggling to reconcile the family that can’t understand them.
Lost, not knowing their place in the world.
Equally clouded in his own grief and misery Vic stands at the opposite end. An old man widowed, lost and alone. Helpless to his pain.
Their eyes lock in the darkness.
At that moment a bond is formed and these two people then begin an unlikely journey that changes their lives forever.
Both arrived at the bridge with a plan, but their plans fade with the night as each realises the need to save the other from their individual demons.
Sam has nowhere to go, so Vic offers a place to stay. During the following weeks, the pair gift each other comfort, support and security.
Cocooned in Vic’s house, away from the scrutiny of the world, Sam becomes comfortable with authentic self-expression. The house is a shrine to Vic’s dead wife and her old dresses and makeup provide a gateway to Sam’s exploration of femininity. Although unable to put words to their feelings, Sam begins to understand their own journey. Vic passes no judgement, allowing Sam the opportunity to grow into themself. Here Sam is safe. Sam is secure.
The relationship between the two characters is complex as is the rest of this story. Sam arrived at this point following an abusive family life, a childhood of drug dealers and lawlessness. An abusive stepfather dominates the mother and family Sam will do anything for.
Awful choices and a bleak future see Sam forced into bold decisions to save themself and protect the people they love. We follow Sam’s life along a path of botched bank robberies and backyard criminality — twists and turns that make Honeybee impossible to put down.
While much of the story’s beauty lies in Sam’s exploration of identity, it is the friendships they forge that shine the brightest lights in their world. Uplifting and supportive Aggie across the street is inquisitive and loveable. Then, there’s drag queen Bella Fitzgerald, a beacon of hope and love in the darkest times. Together Aggie, Bella and Vic provide Sam with the tools to find their path forward and find a brighter future.
Honeybee is a captivating, heartwarming and harrowing story by Craig Silvey, author of Jasper Jones. It’s an unexpected tale of two worlds colliding and also of unlikely friendships.
At its core Honeybee is a trans story. Although never explicitly described as transgender, as the story progresses, the reader becomes aware of Sam’s truth. Some might characterise the fact that author Craig Silvey is not a trans person as problematic. However, he has detailed his consultations with members of the transgender community to assist in ensuring the truth of the story. The end result is captivating, uplifting and raw. Honeybee is a story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
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