ARC review: Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

A refreshingly timely and relatable debut novel about a young woman whose life plans fall apart when she meets her wife.

With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.

This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.

In New York, she’s able to ignore all the annoying questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.

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This is such an important, character-focused book. I am not Black, or a lesbian, I don’t have a PhD and I’m still cocooned in the relative safety of being an undergrad. But Grace’s struggles felt real and I think the book did such a good job at portraying her complicated feelings, stemming from years or even decades of expectations that she, her family and society put on her. While her story not being personally relatable to me I could still project some of my personal history onto her (not to say that this is something necessary in a book, but I like when that happens). The way she felt lost was palpable and I genuinely felt for her throughout the book.

Something else I think this book excelled at is the queer found family element. I wish we had seen more of the NYC queer guys before the book ended because I felt like that was something that was kind of abandoned at some point (and I do kind of get why), but I still loved them a lot. And the Portland side of the queer family was so good, I love how there were different dynamics among all the characters but what glued them all together was the love they feel for each other. The fact that it wasn’t all nice and polished and these characters (especially the female characters) are raw and flawed made it so much better and it reminded me of some of the books that were important to me in the early days right before realizing I’m queer.

While there were many individual things and characters I liked about this book, I unfortunately didn’t love it as much as I had hoped for. This is a very clear case of it’s not you, it’s me, because there just were so many little things that didn’t make this a fully pleasant reading experience for me. There are only so many times I can read romantic notions about space before getting annoyed at the fact that everything needs to be an analogy to something, and to top it off I felt patronized every time and it all led me to realize this book has one of my biggest pet peeves: feeling like I’m being manipulated into specific emotions or vibes. I simply don’t enjoy being spoon-fed by a book in the way that this one did, so it kind of soured my reading experience despite what I liked about it.

Lastly, I feel like a lot of people will go into this for the romance. I really liked the relationship here but if that’s the only reason you’re going into this book you should know the romance is not that prominent. I feel like I was able to let go of my expectations of this being a really romantic book pretty early into my reading but if I hadn’t this would have been another disappointing point.

Ultimately I think I will look back to this book with very mixed feelings because of the reasons I stated above, but I still feel like recommending it because of how well-written and character-focused it is, and because a lot of people will see themselves into it, especially Black lesbians. The vibe of the book is something that will either make you fall in love with it or not, and that’s not something you can predict from simply reading reviews, so I still suggest you give it a try.

TWs: self harm, major depressive disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, racism, racism in academia, a brief scene of someone trying to force religion on someone, mentions of war and war injury, amputation

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