Book review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Heart wrenchingly sad, tender and beautiful, Honeybee is the coming of age story of Sam Watson, a fourteen year old boy with gender dysphoria on the cusp of puberty. The book opens with Sam standing on the wrong side of the railings of an overpass, driven to despair by his ‘otherness’ and the hurt and rejection that he has already been subject to because he is different in a society that cannot tolerate diversity.

It was very timely reading this book whilst the Australian Parliament argued over the so called ‘religious freedom bill’, that if passed, would favour the protection of religious people over rights of LGBTI folk – particularly trans kids and allow religious institutions to discriminate against those who do not conform to their particular principles. The bill was debated a week after one christian school had asked parents to sign an enrolment contract that referred to homosexuality as a sin – including it in a list of ‘immoral’ behaviour alongside bestiality, incest and pedophilia. The outrage that followed caused the school to withdraw the letter.

All these vitriolic shenanigans are backlash following the 2017 same sex marriage vote from a small group of the not so loving (hateful) faithful who still struggle to accept that humanity is a broad, diverse church – and that is ok. I have waxed lyrical about this before. Some people just love to hate, but fortunately a few politicians voted with their conscience resulting in the bill being shelved…for now.

…back to Honeybee. Sam grew up in poverty with a single mum he adored but who suffered from addiction issues and falling for abusive, criminal men. Sam is too gentle for this life. Whilst standing on the bridge he sees an older man, Vic, also standing on the wrong side of the railings. The meeting prevents both from following through their intentions and the two becomes friends – finding in one another a reason to keep living, and Sam finds his logical family.

Honeybee is a book about what and unaccepting society does to people who are different, and how love and acceptance can change an outsiders trajectory to one of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Here’s hoping that religious freedom bill gathers dust on the shelf until the silverfish are sated.

Honeybee has been subject to some debate over the efficacy of the story because ‘it was written by a cis man using predictable tropes’ – there is a view that writers should only write from their own experience and leave own voices to tell their stories themselves. My concern is that this limitation could result in very little on mainstream shelves about diversity, and marginal groups need allies to help drive change in mainstream hearts. Personally I was moved by Honeybee, it made me feel a lot of things and I wanted Sam to be ok, so that’s a good thing.