Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

In this wrenching coming-of-age story more than a decade in the making, Craig Silvey grabs readers by the throat from his opening sentence, and whip-lashes us through the full gamut of emotions as he unspools a tale of childhood trauma and identity.

You won’t read it on the blurb, but Sam Watson, the protagonist of “Honeybee,” is a young trans woman struggling to navigate the world, saddled with the scars of her excruciating childhood. It’s impossible to honestly discuss the novel without “exposing” Sam’s trans identity, which makes its concealment slightly discomforting. The identity of cisgender characters is never obfuscated in media, and doing so in this instance presents the revelation of Sam’s as a spectacle, manufactured as a bombshell, in a narrative that manages a nuanced and compassionate depiction of an adolescent seeking vindication of her self.

We meet fourteen-year-old Sam as she walks onto the Clayton Road overpass in Perth, determined to launch herself onto the road below, pausing momentarily when she spots an old man, Vic, smoking a cigarette, also on the wrong side of the railing. They form an unlikely friendship, which has a lasting impact on Sam, and leads to a series of similarly unconventional but indispensable friendships with the daughter of Vic’s neighbours, Aggie, and drag queen Bella Fitzgerald.

Through a series of flashbacks we discover Sam’s grievous past. She is the only child of a mother who fell pregnant at nineteen, and raised Sam alone, funnelling her loneliness into drugs and alcohol; until she met Steve, a con artist (and the epitome of toxic masculinity) who terrorised Sam for her loathing of outdated masculine pursuits. Sam’s unreserved (and undeserved) loyalty to her mother is truly heartbreaking. Silvey’s rendering of this relationship is exquisite.

That a straight white man has chosen to examine trauma through a trans character warrants unpacking and discussion. I can’t vouch for its authenticity of voice. But I can attest to its devastating portrait of depression, abuse and self-mutilation. I can say that “Honeybee” moved me to tears, that I couldn’t put it down, and that I won’t soon forget it.

ISBN: 9781760877224
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: September 2020
Page Extent: 432
Format:Paperback – C format

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