Review Content Warning: N/A
Book Content Warning: mild instances of self harm
Morgan Rogers’ debut novel Honey Girl is a story about finding one’s place in the world, and the loneliness that comes with that. It stars Grace Porter and details her experience grappling with an unexpected marriage to someone she had never met before one wild night in Vegas, Yuki Yamamoto. Grace’s experience navigating this relationship is played against her strict and uncompromising life as a recent astronomy PhD graduate as she struggles to balance this life and the new spontaneity forced on her.
The book spins a vibrating tension between silken, lyrical imagery, and anxiety-inducing plot. A Bildungsroman chronicling tears, fights, and love but speckled with lines like “I danced under lights and swore solemn vows to a rosebud girl I don’t know,” the book itself sometimes seems like it is finding its own place in the world. In its best moments, this style makes the novel shine, the poetic details enhancing the drama to even greater heights. However, this also can cause a sense of disconnect, with the prose not always matching up with the action described on the page.
In cases like this, it can seem like the writing is trying too hard, attempting to impress the reader with pretty words without substance. More direct, bodily lines like “Grace feels her eyes sting, and she blinks furiously… She grits her teeth until they hurt” feel like lifesavers, a gasp of fresh breath breaking through the intricately constructed sentences surrounding it. When the text becomes mired in purple prose, it is these moments that give us the jolt of energy needed to reconnect with the story.
Yet this isn’t to say that these style choices are always a problem. Rogers is able to, at points, find beautiful ways to still tell the story. One of the most touching moments is when Grace tells Yuki about the Mars Rover, describing how its last words were “My battery is low, and it’s getting dark.” The two are able to bond over the helpless feeling portrayed in the robot’s message, the loneliness and anxiety that had been welling up in both of them, and then shed some of it through their connection. The difference seems to be in how this event is framed. By introducing the story as a tale Grace knows through her research, the moment is able to feel much more natural and real.
Another place that Rogers’ writing shines is in Grace and Yuki’s text exchanges. While sometimes inserting text-speak into writing feels forced, Rogers clearly rises to the occasion as a digital native. Not only that, but because of the short, broken off sentences common in text language, the poetic sense to Honey Girl feels much more at home here, and really seemed to enhance the contents of the texts. Because of these reasons, the texts became so much more of a worthwhile insertion in the novel, rather than a gimmick, adding to Grace’s struggle between connection and loneliness.
Moving onto the plot itself, I have to say I really enjoyed that Rogers introduced this tension between Grace’s identity and goals. As a woman in STEM myself, there’s certainly a lot of baggage that can come with the territory, and it was great to see a novel really lean into that baggage and pick it apart. Grace being a woman of color only adds to this nuanced examination of otherness and lets Rogers tell a story that isn’t often told. And Rogers tells this story with elegance and care, picking apart how the efforts by Grace’s dad, a Black man, both help and hurt her, and detailing the hardship that Black people face from birth through specific moments and interactions in the plot. Grace must face her father to define her own life—while so many parents have misguided views of how they want their child’s lives to turn out, Grace’s dad’s view is situated in his dedication to protecting her from the adversity he has experienced as a Black man. The tension between their views grants a higher degree of complexity to their characterizations and gives nuance to a situation that otherwise might be clear-cut.
Rogers makes the payoff of all this building tension absolutely worth it, with a climax of emotion that definitely made me sniffle through the last dozen pages. Unfortunately, one fault in Rogers’ ability to create strong emotional climaxes is that she is almost too good in forming them, and so sometimes these scenes seemed unearned. Before the final climax, Grace encounters a smaller conflict with a friend, and the intensity of the encounter isn’t completely balanced by the lead-up to it. This makes the argument feel a bit out of place instead of the rewarding release it could have been.
Ultimately, however, Honey Girl is able to present a novel and thoughtful take on growing up. It has moments both beautiful and painful, and it doesn’t shy away from either. While it might have taken a couple chapters to find its footing, the book is able to reach a strong and satisfying conclusion, much like Grace herself. And just like Grace is able to face her life with new experience and energy by the end of the novel, this book only marks the beginning for what I believe Rogers can accomplish in her writing.
Morgan Rogers has a Shih Tzu named Nico and a cat named Grace that she would love to write into a story one day. She likes pupusas, red wine, and brunch. She’s Catholic and laughing about it. Her debut novel Honey Girl is out February 23, 2021 from Park Row books. She is represented by Holly Root of Root Literary.
Honey Girl can be pre-ordered here.