The Honeys Review

Book: The Honeys
Author: Ryan La Sala
Publisher: Push
Year: 2022
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Mars has always been the lesser twin, the shadow to his sister Caroline’s radiance. But when Caroline dies under horrific circumstances, Mars is propelled to learn all he can about his once-inseparable sister, who’d grown tragically distant.
Mars’ gender fluidity means he’s often excluded from the traditions – and expectations – of his politically connected family, including attendance at the prestigious Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy, where his sister poured so much of her time. But with his grief still fresh, he insists on attending in her place.
What Mars finds is a bucolic fairytale. Folksy charm and rigid gender roles combine with toxic preparatory rigor into a pristine, sun-drenched package. Mars seeks out his sister’s old friends: a group of girls dubbed the Honeys, named for the beehives they maintain behind their cabin. They are beautiful and terrifying – and Mars is certain they’re connected to Caroline’s death.
But the longer he stays in Aspen, the more the sweet mountain breezes give way to hints of decay. Mars’ memories begin to falter, bleached beneath the relentless summer sun. Something is hunting him in broad daylight, tying with his mind. If Mars can’t find it soon, it will eat him alive.”

Review: In the front of my review copy of The Honeys, La Sala has left a note for the reader. In it he writes: “As I write you this letter, another fear has found me. My first two books have shown up on a list concocted by a Texas lawmaker, to be investigated for their potentially discomforting themes around queerness, equity, and justice…This man fears me and my art. And I wish – like Mars – his reaction to fear was to learn. As an author, I do think of my works as edifying. I want The Honeys to shock and scare you, but after the buzzing fades, there is much to learn in these pages.”

As you may know from past reviews, I have read several YA books over the last few years and come away feeling frustrated and disappointed. I kept saying “YA can be better!” La Sala has proved me right with The Honeys. A quick-witted and sharp story, The Honeys is also a successful horror / suspense novel, and for that I find myself eternally grateful. I have spent so many hours reading essentially the same book over and over and over within the horror / suspense genre that I’ve grown bored and annoyed, at best. Finally. Finally! A YA novel, a horror / suspense novel at that, that breaks all the norms and blazes its own path forward. The Honeys unfolds slowly and you spend a majority of the book getting to know Mars and Aspen, learning what the camp looks like, discovering all the ways Mars has to fight for their very existence, and learning hints here and there about what may or may not have happened to his sister Caroline while attending the camp. I can appreciate a slow-to-unfold horror story, particularly when it begins it’s descent before there are 10 pages left. La Sala does not disappoint in this regard, as the book begins to gain momentum and work toward a conclusion with a good several chapters to go. In this way, the construction of the book is excellent, something I don’t find very often in both YA and horror novels.

I was a bit torn over whether to give The Honeys 4 or 5 stars when I got to the end – in full transparency, as I read I was convinced it was 5 out of 5 for the majority of the book. It was only when I got to the end that I started to question that rating. I came up against my own mind, thinking “but this is a queer novel” and wondering why there wasn’t some poignant sociologial meaning to draw everything together at the end. What I finally came to realize is that this is a young adult horror novel told from a queer narrator, not a queer novel with horror themes thrown in. While it does answer the brief and delve into Mars’ point of view and the way in which they interact with and are confronted by the world, it doesn’t to come to the end and force the reader to learn something profound – that happens slowly, as you get to know Mars through the bulk of the book. At the end of the day, this is a horror novel told from the point of view of a narrator with a different perspective than the majority of horror or suspense novels I’ve seen out there.

The writing is excellent, especially for a review copy. You have probably read by now, if you’ve been following my reviews for any length of time, that I often get review copies merely weeks before they’re published and still manage to find a plethora of grammatical errors and general mistakes throughout. In The Honeys I found two: one was a repeated word and one was a word left out. The Honeys doesn’t come out for mass reading until August of 2022, so La Sala is way ahead of the game as far as review copies go. I was so overwhelmingly surprised and pleased with the way this book was put together, the quality of the writing, and the overall storytelling, I finished the book and immediately looked up his other two books. YA isn’t a genre I tend to read on my own for fun, but I would gladly read another book from La Sala if his other two are anything like this one.

I can’t speak highly enough about The Honeys. It confronts themes I feel are important, and I think are becoming more important to young readers: the gender binary, traditional gender roles, and the danger that women and trans people feel in the presence of the “boys will be boys” mentality. I’ve read other queer review copies, and particularly within the YA genre it often feels as though the authors are trying too hard to fit these characters into their narrative. The Honeys didn’t feel forced, it didn’t feel over the top, or utterly absurd; it felt natural, it flowed in a way that felt organic, and it left me feeling as though the topic of gender fluidity wasn’t merely thrown in as a token to the audience. Perhaps it’s because La Sala is gender fluid whereas other YA books with queer characters that I’ve read to review have been written by authors who aren’t, or perhaps it speaks to La Sala’s talent as a writer, or maybe (most likely) it’s both. Either way, I came away both absolutely thrilled and disappointed that I’d read through it so quickly.

Advice: I don’t think you have to be a fan of YA books to read and enjoy The Honeys. I think if you enjoy suspenseful novels, beautiful imagery, and a good mystery then The Honeys is going to tick all the boxes for you. If you enjoy quality writing and a mystery that you can’t really solve on your own way ahead of the ending, you’ll love this book. If you’re interested in reading more gender fluid or queer character points of view, this book hits the mark. If you’re a fan of summer camp suspense, again, it checks all the boxes. I think this is a book for a wide and diverse range of audiences and I can’t recommend it enough.

Five Midnights Review

Book: Five Midnights
Author: Ann Dávila Cardinal
Publisher: Tor Teen
Year: 2019
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.
If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping through Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there — murderer, or monster?”

Review: Five Midnights is the forthcoming debut YA novel from Dávila Cardinal, a Puerto Rican who currently lives in Vermont. What Dávila Cardinal has created is a riveting story of a 16-year-old girl, Lupe, coming of age while visiting a country she has allegiance to, being half Puerto Rican by descent. Over the backdrop of a YA fantasy novel, Lupe struggles with her own heritage as a half Puerto Rican, half Irish girl hailing from the mainland United States (Dávila Cardinal’s own Vermont) who doesn’t feel that either location is quite “home”. As she struggles with the idea of being light skinned and light haired, a trait she inherited from a mother who left several years ago, she tries to move into her role as a Puerto Rican but finds to her dismay that she is identified as “other” to native Puerto Ricans.
Dávila Cardinal’s novel is an engrossing tale of cultural heritage, Island myths, and young teenage love. Lupe, spending the summer in PR with her extended family, shares a love for true crime with her Tío who happens to be the local police chief. When she arrives on the island she quickly finds her way into the middle of his investigation into the strange deaths of two young men who died on the eve of their 18th birthdays. The following story is quick moving, enjoyable, and peppered with just enough mythology to spark interest without overwhelming the story with fantastic beasts or creatures.
As someone who has a vague knowledge of the Spanish language, I found this book to be fun to read as it’s filled with Puerto Rican jargon and often challenged my understanding of the context in which it was written. The dialogue is quick and believable, the characters are relatable, and while the story errs on the fantasy side, it is grounded in reality. I had a hard time putting the book down and ended up plowing through it in just under 48 hours – the mark of a quality novel.

My Advice: Do you enjoy the YA genre? If you said yes, this is the book for you. It’s a quick read, perfect for summer with a release date in early June of 2019, and it introduces the reader to an interesting Latin American myth that proves just spooky enough without giving nightmares. Other reviews call this novel “unputdownable” (Paul Tremblay) and they’re correct. It’s a great dive back into YA fiction and with the personal and profession knowledge possessed by Dávila Cardinal being both Puerto Rican and VCFA’s leader of a Puerto Rican residency, it reads with an air of authenticity that can’t be beat.

The Westing Game Review

Book: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1978
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger — and a possible murderer — to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing the game!”

Review: I found The Westing Game on the clearance shelf of my local Half Price Books store for $1. The book is in near perfect condition with the exception of a final page that has come lose and threatens to spoil the ending for the next unsuspecting reader. All of these things made my heart beat faster: I had found a childhood favorite I’d long since forgotten about.
The Westing Game is a young adult book, though when I read it I was about 8 years old so young adult could be a bit of a stretch there. It centers around 6 families who have received anonymous invitations to tour and rent Sunset Towers, a luxury apartment complex with a view of the Westing estate – a mansion with an owner who disappeared years before in the wake of a tragic car crash that left his friend crippled and battered Westing. Not long after the 6 families have moved into Sunset Towers, they are summoned to a reading of the will of Mr. Sam Westing, having each been named as his living heirs following the discovery of his dead body within the Westing mansion. As a man who loved games of all sorts, Westing chose to give his guests clues that must be unscrambled to solve the mystery of his death and discover the alleged murderer or murderess. The winner will receive Westing’s vast fortune: $2 million. What follows is a fun, imaginative Clue type murder mystery complete with explosions, deaths, and secret identities.

My Advice: As a kid, I read this book with great interest, marveling at the clues as they played out and attempting to solve the mystery before it was revealed at the finale. I read it again a few years later, again trying to work out the answer to a puzzling book I love but couldn’t unravel. As an adult, it has been over a decade since I last read The Westing Game and I had no recollection of the result. Reading it again, I found myself once again racing to solve the mystery before the end, only this time I finally solved it..well, mostly.
What I found was a book that moves quickly, keeps the reader captivated, and stuns with a surprise ending and more than a few twists and turns along the way. If you have any interest in children’s lit or young adult lit, I’d suggest going to your nearest library and checking this one out for a light read. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprise.