reflection: Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
[i interviewed Morgan Rogers about her book. you can check out our interview on my instagram here.]
TW: mental health
“Yeah.” Grace sighs. “But did you ever think that maybe one person isn’t meant to go so hard for that long? That maybe - ” She looks down and steels herself. “Maybe I need time now because I never had a chance to do anything else but my studies. Be anything else.”
There is no 2021 book release I feverishly anticipated more than Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers. The description grabbed me: a Black lesbian Ph.D. graduate wakes up one morning in Las Vegas married to a woman whose name she does not remember. All this in combination with a gorgeous cover? I immediately pre-ordered the book and selected it as my March Book of the Month.
But having now finished the book, I’m noticing I feel a weird ambivalence about this read. Most of the ambivalence has to do with how young this book read to me, despite the main character being 28-years-old.
Morgan Rogers’ Honey Girl follows Grace Porter, a biracial 28-year-old Ph.D. student who has just graduated from her doctoral program in Astronomy. If a person is graduating from a doctoral program in their twenties, you can essentially guess that they kept their head down and never took a break from academia for about ten years – which is what Grace Porter did.
The elation Grace initially felt graduating with a doctorate fades after it becomes difficult to secure a post-graduate job in her field. In particular, one interview her mentor Professor MacMillan sets her up for completely falls apart when Grace walks out in anger after being unfairly questioned by a white, homogenous interviewing panel. Having been a scholar for a decade, Grace is now realizing the working world (especially in the Astronomy field) seems like a stark, unforgiving white place that doesn’t seem to have space for her.
After her stepmom Sharone buys her three tickets to Vegas, Grace takes a getaway trip with her two best friends, Ximena and Agnes. One night, after drinking way too much champagne, Grace gets eloped to Yuki Yamamoto in a Vegas chapel. But the next morning Grace wakes up with faint memories of what she did – and no recollection of who she married.
Combine The Hangover (waking up in Vegas with no memories of last night trope. at first I thought I was reaching with this comparison but then a character in the book, Raj, makes the same connection) with Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star (general YA feel of the book, Black and Asian main characters/interracial couple, Black MC into science and planning life to the very last minute) with Brandon Taylor’s Real Life (struggles of being in academia as a Black, queer student) – make it sapphic and I think Honey Girl is something like the result.
What I liked the most about this book was the relationship between Grace Porter and her father, who goes by "Colonel" due to his time in the military. Before her parents were divorced, all three of them lived in Southbury, Florida where Grace’s mother grew and sold oranges for grocers. Following their divorce, Grace’s father takes her when he moves to Portland, Oregon.
As a Black father, Colonel is very much the tough parent and seems to be the reason why Grace puts so much pressure on herself to succeed. Colonel’s lack of patience for people who are fleeting and unfocused can be seen in the way he speaks about his ex-wife, Grace’s white mother (“Things get hard, and you want to give up. You want to flee. There is more of your mother in you than you know, Porter.”). Colonel also seems to be dealing with a lot of pain that he keeps suppressed - both physical injuries (one leg is amputated) and mental injuries (there are moments his PTSD flared up when Grace was younger, such as when Grace spots him holding an imaginary gun at someone late at night).
I felt the most invested in their story because it reminded me so much of my own father who is definitely a lover but also a pusher. Yes, I wanted to go to law school. But it was also my father who pushed me to not take a gap year and to choose a certain school over another, even when I would have preferred not to.
Black fathers can be tough, guys lol. Especially because, out of fear, misogyny and unresolved racial trauma, they are extra protective of their daughters. So the relationship between Grace and Colonel was ultra-real! When they argued, and Colonel was planning her next goal instead of expressing joy that his daughter had graduated with a DOCTORATE, I was like damn.... been there.
I also liked the critique of academia in general. Though I appreciate my undergraduate experience, I feel like most colleges (even the highly-ranked ones) do a poor job of making sure their graduates are placed with a post-graduate position. It’s amazing that American universities can lure you in with promises of success, charge you $35,000 a year for four years and then put you out with little to no guidance. The constant job rejection emails that Grace filters through (“not the best fit” “sorry to inform”) are literally the anthem of so many college graduates.
Right after Grace graduates with her doctorate, she is shown working at a tea house. This stark contrast between her qualifications and her current day job speaks to so many of my friends who regret/have second thoughts about their higher education pursuits.
And of course, the diversity of characters (racial, sexual, neurodiversity) in this book should be celebrated.
So with all these good parts, it is not easy to say that ultimately this book did not meet my high expectations. But even in saying this, I still want you guys to go out and read this it for yourself. There have been many rave reviews and I don’t want some of my minor disappointments to take away from the many people who have connected with this book. This is a reflection not a review – I say how I feel, not how everyone else *should* feel.
First, Grace is 28 and turns 29. One of her friends, Raj, is 33. I’m not sure how old Grace’s other friends are (Agnes, Ximena, Meera, Yuki) but they are all at least over the age of 21. So it’s kinda disorienting that this book read like a YA novel and that all of the characters kinda speak like teens.
I’m not against YA, but I went into this expecting a grown adult contemporary. I’ve seen people explain this away by saying that adult contemporaries focus on people who are in their thirties but that’s not necessarily true. The main characters of my favorite adult contemporary books are all in their twenties and they sound different: Like a Bird by Fariha Roisin, Memorial by Bryan Washington, Luster by Raven Leilani, New Waves by Kevin Nguyen, Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour.
I think the youngest voiced character in Honey Girl is Yuki, who I didn’t really take a liking to. Some things about her are cool. She lives in New York, has a radio show called “Are You There?” and has a sort of freedom about her that Grace could use some of.
But her obsession with Grace’s golden big hair and her constant reaching out to touch kinda made me uneasy, though I know it was supposed to be romantic. It was also completely unfair when after Grace visits for the first time, Yuki gets mad that Grace doesn’t consider New York a home. after Grace leaves, Yuki literally texts her: “i didn’t know when you said you didn’t believe in monsters you meant you didn’t believe in me too.” I was like.... girl, yes you guys are married but she just met you like give her a second to figure out her next steps.
For books that seem to be in-between young adult and adult contemporary, a lot of readers have been pushing for a new genre “New Adult.” From what I’ve read, New Adult novels feature protagonists ages 18-30 and allows the main character to be sort of immature, perhaps going through a second coming-of-age. I think this book would be better marketed under such a genre because it isn’t quite adult contemporary in the way I would have liked.
This book is good, but not what I had expected. I also have to be honest with myself and say I’m not a very romantic person. Erotica, yes. Romance, not so much.