Every so often I would close this book and take a deep breath. The out-of-control actions are breathtaking and I felt sad and infuriated at the same time. Sam ‘Honeybee’ Watson is powerless as he is pushed and pulled repeatedly through horrible events in his young life. Author Craig Silvey does not sugar-coat the mental and physical abuse. He writes an accurate portrayal of how alcohol, drugs and crime destroy a family, and the twisted use of power by certain members of that family.
Sam’s view of the world is distorted by cruel and thoughtless people, mainly his mother and her boyfriend Steve, until traumatic circumstances bring him to meet old bloke Vic and nurse Peter, both offering him a glimpse of a kinder world. On the periphery, he meets and makes his first friend Aggie who shows him a regular homelife. Later he is offered assistance by a detective but Sam shuts down regarding his domestic situation and goes his own way with disastrous results.
Fourteen year old Sam likes dogs and wearing feminine clothing, and thanks to Vic he is good at motorcycle maintenance. There are emotional moments concerning all three; dogs, sequins and motorcycles. However, I did seesaw between whether or not I liked Sam because he certainly did some wrong things. Even allowing for his youth and gender confusion, he fits the words of the Paul Kelly song ‘I’ve done all the dumb things’ only partly excusable by his fertile imagination, impulsive nature and inherent lack of trust.
The story has a good blend of past and present so the reader can see how things spiral out of control. Early on, Sam becomes an adept thief because there is never food in the house so he steals groceries and watches videos of cooking goddess (no, not Nigella) the late Julia Child, turning into an impressive cook himself. He constantly seeks approval of his culinary dishes.
I was not shocked by Sam’s experiences but they could be too confronting for younger readers. This novel is very different from Silvey's ‘Jasper Jones’ and I think a sturdier sense of place, a more tangible atmosphere could have been applied instead of skimming through the streets. Set in Western Australia, there are ‘movie moments’ and clipped generic dialogue, but I found the insertion of Americanisms kept to a minimum. I suspect when Sam dials the wrong emergency number it is a poke at millennials who don't know the correct Australian phone number.
Favourite sentence because it is so corny ‘I sat there and nodded, but my heart was breaking, because I knew I could never tell Aggie the truth about myself.’ However, Craig Silvey has firmly and skillfully documented Sam’s predicament, a blend of teenage unease, identity crisis and gender anxiety. Read at the right age, at the right time, it could prove to be an enlightening book.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”.
Craig Silvey (born 1982) is an Australian novelist and musician living in Fremantle. Silvey grew up on an orchard in Dwellingup, a small town in timber and fruit-growing lands in south-west Western Australia. He wrote his first book ‘Rhubarb’ when he was nineteen and it was published in 2004. Silvey has received many accolades for his books and twice been named one of the Best Young Australian Novelists by The Sydney Morning Herald, and has been shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.
Since his wildly successful novel ‘Jasper Jones’, Silvey has published the novella ‘The Amber Amulet’, which he adapted into a stage play the following year, and has scripted ‘The Prospector’, a contemporary western film directed by Rachel Perkins. His latest book ‘Honeybee’ was published in 2020. Silvey also sings and plays the electric ukulele in an indie/pop/rock band called ‘The Nancy Sikes’.