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Book: “The Honeys” by Ryan La Sala
Publishing Info: PUSH, August 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.
Book Description: Mars has always been the lesser twin, the shadow to his sister Caroline’s radiance. But when Caroline dies under horrific circumstances, Mars is propelled to learn all he can about his once-inseparable sister who’d grown tragically distant.
Mars’s genderfluidity means he’s often excluded from the traditions — and expectations — of his politically-connected family. This includes attendance at the prestigious Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy where his sister poured so much of her time. But with his grief still fresh, he insists on attending in her place.
What Mars finds is a bucolic fairytale not meant for him. Folksy charm and sun-drenched festivities camouflage old-fashioned gender roles and a toxic preparatory rigor. Mars seeks out his sister’s old friends: a group of girls dubbed the Honeys, named for the beehives they maintain behind their cabin. They are beautiful and terrifying — and Mars is certain they’re connected to Caroline’s death. But the longer he stays at Aspen, the more the sweet mountain breezes give way to hints of decay. Mars’s memories begin to falter, bleached beneath the relentless summer sun. Something is hunting him in broad daylight, toying with his mind. If Mars can’t find it soon, it will eat him alive.
Review: Thank you to PUSH for sending me an ARC of this novel!
There is something about bees and horror that just kind of goes together. From the classic horror film “Candyman” to the recent “Umma” (I quite enjoyed this one, I don’t agree with the critics scores), there are things you can do with bee imagery that just work in a scary context. I’m actually surprised I haven’t encountered it more in horror fiction, but luckily we have “The Honeys” by Ryan La Sala to tap into this imagery! I hadn’t heard of this book before it ended up on my doorstep, but the premise was definitely eye catching. It sounded a bit like “Heathers” meets folk and prep school horror, and if that isn’t an interesting combination I don’t know what is.
I will say that “The Honeys” is a little slow to start up and really get going, at least in my reading experience it was. We start with a bang, but then it takes its sweet time to build up the unease and high strangeness that is going on at Aspen, and to explore what it has to do with Mars, Caroline, and the Honeys. It just felt a bit like the pacing was uneven, and it had a hard time holding my attention at first because of it. But I will say that once we got into the thick of it, and stuff started happening, it had an iron grip on my attention and it really picked up. The horror elements to this book are so profoundly unique, and also have some really, REALLY creepy and upsetting imagery that felt straight out of an Ari Aster horror movie (funnily enough I mean that in a positive way, given that I don’t really like Aster’s movies too much, but the guy does know how to deliver on horror aesthetic). There was one moment in particular that practically broke my brain for a few moments and I just kind of froze up.
What worked even better for me was how La Sala used this story to take on and deconstruct toxic gender norms within a rigid social setting, as Mars is genderfluid and Aspen, while pastoral and somewhat chill, has VERY stringent gender norms, some okay, others quite toxic. The Honeys themselves kind of break stereotypes of femininity, as they are hyper feminine but don’t meet the preconceived and sexist notions of what that means (aka, just because they’re girly it doesn’t mean they are weak, as femininity isn’t a weakness). On the flip side, the hyper masculine boys group at the school is seeping in toxic masculinity, and Mars being genderfluid makes them a target of animosity, but also a target of those who would prefer they go along to get along, given their prestigious status as the child of a Senator. I liked seeing how La Sala explores this through Mars’s eyes, and how even those who mean well towards them and their social acceptance at Aspen are still putting the onus on Mars as opposed to the people who are being cruel. And I don’t want to give spoilers here, but I will say that even the larger plan at the horror thematic center constrains itself to such societal mores, and it is up to Mars and their allies to take their power back. I thought all of this was well done.
So all in all, a slower start but a unique and worthwhile horror read! “The Honeys” is sure to get people talking in YA horror circles.
Rating 7: Kind of a slow start, but once it gets going “The Honeys” is a twisted and creepy horror novel that takes on corrupt powers that be and toxic societal gender constraints.
“The Honeys” is new and isn’t included on many Goodreads lists, but it would fit in on “Queer Dark Academia”.