Mad Honey Book Summary - Mad Honey Book explained in key points
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Mad Honey summary

Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

A Novel

4.3 (24 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

"Mad Honey" co-authored by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan tells a riveting coming-of-age tale that explores gender identity, friendship and self-acceptance, and navigates the delicate balance between conformity and individuality.

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    Mad Honey
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    The day of

    The morning of December 7 dawns like most others for single mom and rural beekeeper Olivia McKafee on her small family farm in New Hampshire. Her son, Asher, is making coffee in the kitchen, and Christmas decorating has begun. Asher soon rushes off to high school. He's been fighting with his girlfriend, Lily, and is withdrawn. 

    Later that morning, Olivia checks her hives and discovers a predator raided one in the night. Desperate to save the bees, she begins repairs that take up most of the day. Getting stung in the process, she is reminded of past violent abuse by her ex-husband – Asher’s father – Brandon. 

    That evening, Olivia realizes she hasn’t heard from Asher and gets concerned. Soon, she receives a frantic phone call from Asher at the police station, with the troubling news that Asher’s girlfriend of several months, Lily, might be dead.

    Lily’s day starts a bit differently on December 7. Feeling sick and nervous, she’s home from school. A week ago, she fought with Asher when he tried to orchestrate a reunion between her and her estranged father – a reunion Lily saw less as an early Christmas gift and more as a betrayal of trust. Asher passionately argued that he felt deprived of a relationship with his father, and wanted her to have one. 

    But Lily had fled her abusive father – just as Olivia had fled Asher’s abusive father – and she wasn’t moved by Asher’s pleas. She wore friendship bracelets to cover scars from a recent suicide attempt stemming from her father’s abuse. Feeling betrayed, Lily walked miles home in the snow and didn’t speak with Asher for a week after this debacle. She blames the cold walk for her current illness. Her mother, Ava, blames Asher for the bruises she saw on Lily’s arms after their fight.

    Lily recounts, with some dread, that this is the day early application decisions are announced for Oberlin, her first-choice college. By that afternoon, she’s gotten the bad news – she wasn’t admitted – and is receiving increasingly desperate texts from Asher. Then there’s a knock at the door. 

    The story continues from Olivia’s point of view as she rushes to meet Asher at the local police station. The small-town detective who’s questioning her son about Lily’s death was Olivia’s senior prom date, Mike. Because of their long history, the detective allows Olivia to stay. 

    She learns that Asher found Lily in her home, unconscious at the bottom of the stairs. Her head was bleeding profusely. Asher had moved Lily to the couch and was cradling her when Lily’s mom, Ava, returned and called 911. 

    Shortly after the interrogation begins, the detective receives a call that Lily has died.


    The story opens with an epigraph from philosopher Søren Kierkegaard about life being understood backward, yet lived forward. Olivia’s story unfolds forward in time from the day Asher is first questioned for Lily’s murder. The story weaves together her past with abusive ex Brandon, her life as a small-town beekeeper, and reflections as a single mom to Asher. Most importantly, we learn that she's kept much about the abuse she endured while married to Brandon from his son. She hoped to protect Asher from the horrific truth of what she suffered before fleeing in the middle of the night.

    We encounter Lily’s story backward, beginning with the dramatic day of her death. It flashes back to her earlier life on the West Coast, and references a difficult childhood. We hear about her mother Ava’s dramatic efforts to keep Lily safe after hints of a recent suicide attempt and abuse from her father. 

    Sprinkled throughout Olivia’s story are facts and lore about bees. We learn of their matriarchal colonies, their strange biology, and their complex behavior. They serve as metaphors for important themes. Old customs around telling the bees about a recent death in the home give resonance to Olivia’s grief. The bees also echo the sweet and the sting of Olivia’s relationship with Asher. Her protective instincts are demonstrated both when her hive, and her son, are attacked.

    Finally, Olivia slowly reveals the repressed history about her picture-perfect relationship with Asher’s father, and details the sadistic abuse she endured behind closed doors. References to Lily’s recent bruises, and Asher trying to reunite Lily with her father, sow doubts about whether Asher has escaped his father’s abusive tendencies.

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    What is Mad Honey about?

    Mad Honey (2022) tells the story of two women who have fled abusive pasts to make a new life in the small town of Adams, New Hampshire. When one is found dead, and the other finds her son accused of the murder, the tense courtroom drama that unfolds shines light on the true cost of secrets kept for love.

    Mad Honey Review

    Mad Honey (2022) by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the complexities of identity and family through the journey of a transgender teen. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a compelling portrayal of a transgender protagonist, shedding light on their struggles, triumphs, and the importance of acceptance.
    • Addresses relevant societal issues such as discrimination, prejudice, and the search for identity, sparking important conversations and promoting empathy.
    • With its masterful storytelling and deeply developed characters, the book manages to captivate readers, making it an emotional and thought-provoking reading experience.

    Who should read Mad Honey?

    • Fiction lovers craving a well-told tale about timely issues
    • Courtroom drama fans looking for a story with suspenseful, emotional twists 
    • Anyone curious about a narrative of complex characters facing challenging times

    About the Author

    Jodi Picoult is an award-winning and best-selling author of 28 novels. Between the Lines, a book cowritten with her daughter, was recently adapted and debuted as an Off-Broadway musical. 

    Jennifer Finney Boylan is a best-selling author, the inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence at Barnard College, and a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She is the former co-chair of GLAAD and a nationally known human rights advocate.

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    Mad Honey FAQs 

    What is the main message of Mad Honey?

    Mad Honey explores the complexities of family and the power of forgiveness.

    How long does it take to read Mad Honey?

    Mad Honey can be read in a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Mad Honey a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Mad Honey is a captivating read, offering a thought-provoking story that will keep you hooked until the end.

    Who is the author of Mad Honey?

    The author of Mad Honey is Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan.

    What to read after Mad Honey?

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