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 parent’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 constant 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.
Honey Girl is one of the most impeccable books I have ever read. In the span of less than 300 pages (293 to be exact), Morgan Rogers covers a massive breadth of experiences in the life of Dr. Grace Porter, a recent PhD graduate in astronomy navigating the job industry post-graduation. Grace finds herself adrift in a world that has systemically barricaded her from an equitable chance at jobs that she is more than qualified for and she finds herself lonely and defeated. The book opens with her waking up, having married a woman she hardly knows in Vegas, and the blurb on the dust jacket led me to believe that this would be a fun pre-destined marriage contemporary novel, but in these pages lay one of the most magnificent coming of age stories.
Grace has a complex relationship with her strict father Colonel, her stepmother Sharone, her flighty mother Melodie, and Melodie’s fiancé Kelly. Colonel is steadfast in his harshness, and has a “suck it up” mentality that he pushes upon Grace, which quashes her attempts at expressing herself to him, and Sharone becomes somewhat of a mediator. Grace experiences attachment instability with her mother, feeling let down when she doesn’t come through in a way that Grace finds comforting.
She creates a found family of two best friends Ximena and Agnes, and her co workers Raj and Meera. These friends, while grappling with their own worlds, accept every part of Grace while supporting her unconditionally. There is something to be said about the safety of a queer community of color, and that warmth shines through in Morgan Rogers’ character constructs. Grace’s experience shows that each person she invites into her found family carries a different piece of her, and each person in her family of origin is a tangled string she can’t quite detach or unwind. People are messy and complicated, and sitting with that mess is sometimes really hard, but the people who sat with her made it worthwhile.
Grace’s job search is hindered again and again by systemic discrimination. She applies for a job where she is overwhelmingly uncomfortable during the interview process. She tries to explain to her White advisor, who, while well-meaning, has set Grace up for the same draining and disheartening experience she repeatedly has. White, cis het higher ups in her program questioned her research and as a result, she had to be the best by a long shot, in order to be considered as a worthy candidate. This in itself is a form of trauma, constantly being beaten down and eventually believing that her best was not enough, compared to peers who had to do significantly less to be accepted as distinguished and esteemed. Furthermore, she has to pretend that everything is fine, because if she doesn’t, her peers and bosses will see that, and perceive it as a communication of imperfection, and that, in their eyes, is unacceptable since she already has to work so hard to be seen at all. It is a heartbreaking cycle, and wears her down almost completely.
Of all the love stories I have read in my lifetime, there are very few, if any, love interests who I think I would genuinely fall for if I met them in real life. Then I met Yuki Yamamoto and that wholly changed. Yuki is the host of a late-night show where she tells stories about mystical beings and monsters, some from ancient Japanese traditional stories. She explains that deep within us are monsters, and these creatures have a dark force that can engulf us if we don’t chase them away with our light. I find the intimacy she creates intoxicating, in the way she weaves connections between these stories and the most fragile human emotions. Had I read this book maybe a year ago, I would have had a different lens. Multiple people have found their way in and out of my life since then, some of whom have left irreparable scars, and some of whom reopened, and firmly shut, places in my soul I haven’t traversed in years. I found music that guided me through this year, and Yuki’s stories similarly are that hand to hold in the early morning hours when listeners are alone with their thoughts.
The experience Grace has trying to find a therapist covers so many nuances in the mental health system as a queer Black woman. There is an importance in finding a Black (or at minimum, culturally competent and actively anti-racist) therapist, in that the client should not have to explain basics about why their life is difficult from a systemic and traumatic perspective. True healing cannot begin until there is safety to discuss the monsters that she tries to run from on a daily basis until she is entirely exhausted. There are few, if any, books that describe this very real process, and that demonstrates that there is so much work to be done to decolonize mental health accessibility and therapist training.
Within these pages that are raw to the touch with their vulnerability, Honey Girl explodes like a supernova. As Morgan Rogers explains, they require a certain bravery to withstand their force. I felt like a chasm had been ripped in my chest as I was reading, with every new story of Yuki’s at 1am. As the book went on, and as Grace rebuilt, a sense of hopefulness was restored. Sometimes it really does take uncovering terrifying thoughts to confront and defeat them, and sometimes the result is truly beautiful.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
Is this book for you?
Genre: Adult contemporary
Trigger/Content warnings: These are quoted directly from the author’s website. Discussion and depictions of mental illness, self-harm (scratching skin, nails digging into skin as anxiety coping mechanism), past suicide attempt by side character, depictions of anti-Blackness and homophobia in the academic and corporate settings, casual alcohol consumption, minor drug use (marijuana), discussions of racism experienced by all characters of color, past limb amputation due to war injury (side character), past parent death (side character)