Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult is a novel that explores the complexities of family relationships, generational trauma, and the consequences of our actions. The author conveys an interesting angle on how situations may be perceived through one’s experiences, even when looking at the people we love.
The reader delves through the lens of a family torn apart by tragedy. Picoult highlights themes of grief, guilt, and forgiveness, and she presents personal views from all the characters struck by the shared tragedy, which also invites readers to reflect on their experiences and perspectives. And you can use these Mad Honey book club questions to start a thought-provoking conversation which could include topics like the cycle of abuse and generational trauma.
This Mad Honey discussion guide aims to facilitate a deeper understanding of the novel and encourage readers to engage in meaningful conversations about its themes and messages. In it, you’ll get ten discussion-worthy questions regarding themes found in the novel. We’ve also provided a synopsis and a range of review excerpts to help get your discussion going.
If your club loved this book, keep scrolling for three great reads similar to Mad Honey.
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Mad Honey Synopsis
(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)
Mad Honey, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.
Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.
And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .
Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.
Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.
10 Mad Honey Book Club Questions
These questions have been tailored to this book’s specific reading experience, but if you want more ideas, we also have an article with 101 generic book club questions.
- Ok, let’s be honest! Who thought Dirk was responsible for Lily’s death, and why did you think that way?
- Were you surprised at the end to discover the real story behind the events leading up to Lily’s death? Did you think after the trial that Asher “got away” with it? Or that maybe Dirk played a more significant role in the accident? Did you guess Maya had a role at all?
- A seemingly short period exists between Ava running for medicine and returning home to find Lily and Asher. Dirk, Maya, and Asher visited the house during this time. Do you think that Dirk or Maya might have crossed paths? If so, how would the investigation have changed had the police known of all the activity in the house before Lily’s death?
- “But when I held Asher, slippery as a minnow, I was relieved. Better to have a boy that would never be someone’s victim.” Do you think Olivia’s earlier experiences with martial abuse helped shape her perception of who her son was later in the story?
- What are your thoughts about Asher becoming a victim as the story unfolded? The reader wonders about his role in Lily’s death due to the narrative from Olivia’s past experiences. What are your thoughts about Asher being a victim of the legal system?
- The pace of the storytelling changes when we dive into the legal scenes of the story. Did this help to raise the suspense of the trial outcome, or did you feel it caused the storyline to lag?
- “I’ve already hurt you, says Asher, and we both remember that day in the car. You don’t know everything.”
As Lily’s story unfolds, there does seem to be a pattern of domestic abuse from her perspective. Do you feel as though the abuse cycle is continuing? Asher also struggles with becoming his father and continuing a violent cycle. What are your thoughts on the victim-abuser cycle?
- Lily is an incredibly vulnerable character who suffered abuse at her father’s hands from a very early age. She also had experienced violence from her peers and a suicide attempt. Do you believe Lily was scared of Asher in their relationship?
- Picoult is often known for bringing to light controversial topics. In this novel, Lily is a transgender female and has suffered many injustices. Lily thinks, “Being known […] This is what I am thankful for.”
What are your thoughts about living in a world where living in an authentic form makes you a target of violence and ridicule?
- “Because I was lucky enough to get on puberty blockers and do my transition young, people think I’m cis, they think I’m just like they are.”
Do you know anyone who has either gone through gender transitioning or is currently going through a transition? How have Lily and Ava’s viewpoints throughout the story changed your perspective on the topic?
- Our political climate is highly polarized when it comes to transgender policies. Some folks think that children need to be “saved” from puberty blockers. However, the quote in the previous question sheds light on a child grateful for the opportunity to start puberty blockers at a young age.
Discuss whether policies blocking access to these medications are hurting or helping transgender children. Which side of the line do you fall on?
Selected Reviews for Mad Honey
(Use these selected Goodreads reviews to compare with your own experience of the book. Do you agree or disagree with the reviews?)
“I respect and appreciate the position and perspective the authors took in telling this story, especially in light of the contemporary idea that everything and everyone needs to be completely transparent. There is a difference between secrets and privacy, and privacy and dishonesty and Picoult and Boylan had me thinking about layers: layers of discrimination, layers of truth, and layers of right and wrong and ultimately what defines this or that.”
“I’m going to be in the minority here, but I didn’t love this book. This book started off super strong and I was super intrigued. I flew through the beginning and had a hard time putting it down. Then, it started adding in all these controversial, hot topics including LGBTQ, abuse, suicide, abortion, gender equality, and interracial couples. It felt like the authors were trying to add in any and every recent hot topic they could think of to this book, and it just didn’t set well for me. […] all these triggers brought the enjoyability factor way down.”
“Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan have mastered character development. These characters are not black and white, all good or all bad. Even while depicting the abusive relationship, they showed the loving moments as well as the more challenging aspects of the relationship. Some characters aren’t comfortable sharing their past. Some are still trying to come to terms with their own relationship to the past.”
“As for the ending? Want my real personal truth? I felt it was a copout ending. I won’t say more — other than for a book packed filled with plots, excessive drawn-out-subplots, themes, issues, (twists that some readers thought were shocking)…..it was a pretty dull ending….safe….non-committal type ending.”
3 Books Like Mad Honey
For starters, if you really like the author’s writing, we have an article that features ALL of Picoult’s books, summarized, rated and ranked. If your book group is keen to read more queer or trans protagonists, have a look at our Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo discussion guide or Matrix discussion guide.
This book was a Good Morning America book club pick. If you like their selections, we also have guides for Lessons in Chemistry, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, The Vanishing Half and The Personal Librarian.
Wrong Place Wrong Time, Gillian McAllister
If you enjoyed Mad Honey’s mother/son dynamic, you might also enjoy Wrong Place Wrong Time. This novel is about a mother that witnesses her son committing a crime. She then wakes every morning to find herself back in time in the days leading up to the event. Will she find a chance to save him from himself? This book is a twisty puzzle of a mystery.
Miracle Creek, Angie Kim
Miracle Creek also mimics Mad Honey with a storyline of inter-family dynamics. After an explosion at a hyperbolic chamber center, no one is sure who to blame for the deadly catastrophe. During the subsequent trial, speculation and rumor fill the courtroom, leaving the reader in suspense.
Key themes include flawed family priorities, grief, disability and caregiving.
The Thirty Names of Night, Zyan Joukahdar
If you enjoyed the trans-coming-of-age perspective of Mad Honey, you would also enjoy The Thirty Names of Night, which, like Mad Honey, discusses aspects of death, loss, and grief.
The primary narrator is busy creating a mural in what once was NYC’s Little Syria neighborhood. Their ornithologist mother has died, they are dealing with an aging grandparent. They are also struggling to settle into their trans identity and find a new name that better reflects their identity. While out painting, they discover the journal of another ornithologist who was associated with their narrator’s mother.
The book is an excellent read about the search for and the eventual embracement of personal authenticity. And also…lots about birds.
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Authored by: Cassandra Branson