Mad Honey

A Novel

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “Alternatingly heart-pounding and heartbreaking. This collaboration between two best-selling authors seamlessly weaves together Olivia and Lily’s journeys, creating a provocative exploration of the strength that love and acceptance require.”—The Washington Post
 
GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • PEOPLE’S BOOK OF THE WEEK

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: PopSugar


Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.
 
Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start. 
 
And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .
 
Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.
 
Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Mad Honey

Chapter 1

Olivia 1

December 7, 2018

The day of


From the moment I knew I was having a baby, I wanted it to be a girl. I wandered the aisles of department stores, touching doll-size dresses and tiny sequined shoes. I pictured us with matching nail polish—me, who’d never had a manicure in my life. I imagined the day her fairy hair was long enough to capture in pigtails, her nose pressed to the glass of a school bus window; I saw her first crush, prom dress, heartbreak. Each vision was a bead on a rosary of future memories; I prayed daily.

As it turned out, I was not a zealot . . . ​only a martyr.

When I gave birth, and the doctor announced the baby’s sex, I did not believe it at first. I had done such a stellar job of convincing myself of what I wanted that I completely forgot what I needed. But when I held Asher, slippery as a minnow, I was relieved.

Better to have a boy, who would never be someone’s victim.

Most people in Adams, New Hampshire, know me by name, and those who don’t, know to steer clear of my home. It’s often that way for beekeepers—like firefighters, we willingly put ourselves into situations that are the stuff of others’ nightmares. Honeybees are far less vindictive than their yellow jacket cousins, but people can’t often tell the difference, so anything that stings and buzzes comes to be seen as a potential hazard. A few hundred yards past the antique Cape, my colonies form a semicircular rainbow of hives, and most of the spring and summer the bees zip between them and the acres of blossoms they pollinate, humming a warning.

I grew up on a small farm that had been in my father’s family for generations: an apple orchard that, in the fall, sold cider and donuts made by my mother and, in the summer, had pick-your-own strawberry fields. We were land-rich and cash-poor. My father was an apiarist by hobby, as was his father before him, and so on, all the way back to the first McAfee who was an original settler of Adams. It is just far enough away from the White Mountain National Forest to have affordable real estate. The town has one traffic light, one bar, one diner, a post office, a town green that used to be a communal sheep grazing area, and Slade Brook—a creek whose name was misprinted in a 1789 geological survey map, but which stuck. Slate Brook, as it should have been written, was named for the eponymous rock mined from its banks, which was shipped far and wide to become tombstones. Slade was the surname of the local undertaker and village drunk, who had a tendency to wander off when he was on a bender, and who ironically killed himself by drowning in six inches of water in the creek.

When I first brought Braden to meet my parents, I told him that story. He had been driving at the time; his grin flashed like lightning. But who, he’d asked, buried the undertaker?

Back then, we had been living outside of DC, where Braden was a resident in cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins and I worked at the National Zoo, trying to cobble together enough money for a graduate program in zoology. We’d only been together three months, but I had already moved in with him. We were visiting my parents that weekend because I knew, viscerally, that Braden Fields was the one.

On that first trip back home, I had been so sure of what my future would hold. I was wrong on all counts. I never expected to be an apiarist like my father; I never thought I’d wind up sleeping in my childhood bedroom once again as an adult; I never imagined I’d settle down on a farm my older brother, Jordan, and I once could not wait to leave. I married Braden; he got a fellowship at Mass General; we moved to Boston; I was a doctor’s wife. Then, almost a year to the day of my wedding anniversary, my father didn’t come home one evening after checking his hives. My mother found him, dead of a heart attack in the tall grass, bees haloing his head.

My mother sold the piece of land that held our apple orchard to a couple from Brooklyn. She kept the strawberry fields but was thoroughly at a loss when it came to my father’s hives. Since my brother was busy with a high-powered legal career and my mother was allergic to bees, the apiary fell to me. For five years, I drove from Boston to Adams every week to take care of the colonies. After Asher was born, I’d bring him with me, leaving him in the company of my mother while I checked the hives. I fell in love with beekeeping, the slow-motion flow of pulling a frame out of a hive, the Where’s Waldo? search for the queen. I expanded from five colonies to fifteen. I experimented with bee genetics with colonies from Russia, from Slovenia, from Italy. I signed pollination contracts with the Brooklynites and three other local fruit orchards, setting up new hives on their premises. I harvested, processed, and sold honey and beeswax products at farmers’ markets from the Canadian border to the suburbs of Massachusetts. I became, almost by accident, the first commercially successful beekeeper in the history of apiarist McAfees. By the time Asher and I moved permanently to Adams, I knew I might never get rich doing this, but I could make a living.

My father taught me that beekeeping is both a burden and a privilege. You don’t bother the bees unless they need your help, and you help them when they need it. It’s a feudal relationship: protection in return for a percentage of the fruits of their labors.

He taught me that if a body is easily crushed, it develops a weapon to prevent that from happening.

He taught me that sudden movements get you stung.

I took these lessons a bit too much to heart.

On the day of my father’s funeral, and years later, on the day of my mother’s, I told the bees. It’s an old tradition to inform them of a death in the family; if a beekeeper dies, and the bees aren’t asked to stay on with their new master, they’ll leave. In New Hampshire, the custom is to sing, and the news has to rhyme. So I draped each colony with black crepe, knocked softly, crooned the truth. My beekeeping net became a funeral veil. The hive might well have been a coffin.

By the time I come downstairs that morning, Asher is in the kitchen. We have a deal, whoever gets up first makes the coffee. My mug still has a wisp of steam rising. He is shoveling cereal into his mouth, absorbed in his phone.

“Morning,” I say, and he grunts in response.

For a moment, I let myself stare at him. It’s hard to believe that the soft-centered little boy who would cry when his hands got sticky with propolis from the hives can now lift a super full of forty pounds of honey as if it weighs no more than his hockey stick. Asher is over six feet tall, but even as he was growing, he was never ungainly. He moves with the kind of grace you find in wildcats, the ones that can steal away a kitten or a chick before you even realize they’ve gone. Asher has my blond hair and the same ghost-green eyes, for which I have always been grateful. He carries his father’s last name, but if I also had to see Braden every time I looked at my son, it would be that much harder.

I catalog the breadth of his shoulders, the damp curls at the nape of his neck; the way the tendons in his forearms shift and play as he scrolls through his texts. It’s shocking, sometimes, to be confronted with this when a second ago he sat on my shoulders, trying to pull down a star and unravel a thread of the night.

“No practice this morning?” I ask, taking a sip of my coffee. Asher has been playing hockey as long as we’ve lived here; he skates as effortlessly as he walks. He was made captain as a junior and reelected this year, as a senior. I never can remember whether they have rink time before school or after, as it changes daily.

His lips tug with a slight smile, and he types a response into his phone, but doesn’t answer.

“Hello?” I say. I slip a piece of bread into the ancient toaster, which is jerry-rigged with duct tape that occasionally catches on fire. Breakfast for me is always toast and honey, never in short supply.

“I guess you have practice later,” I try, and then provide the answer that Asher doesn’t. “Why yes, Mom, thanks for taking such an active interest in my life.”

I fold my arms across my boxy cable-knit sweater. “Am I too old to wear this tube top?” I ask lightly.

Silence.

“I’m sorry I won’t be here for dinner, but I’m running away with a cult.”

I narrow my eyes. “I posted that naked photo of you as a toddler on Instagram for Throwback Thursday.”

Asher grunts noncommittally. My toast pops up; I spread it with honey and slide into the chair directly across from Asher. “I’d really prefer that you not use my Mastercard to pay for your Pornhub subscription.”

His eyes snap to mine so fast I think I can hear his neck crack. “What?”

“Oh, hey,” I say smoothly. “Nice to have your attention.”

Asher shakes his head, but he puts down his phone. “I didn’t use your Mastercard,” he says.

“I know.”

“I used your Amex.”

I burst out laughing.

- About the author -

Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight novels, including Wish You Were Here, Small Great Things, Leaving Time, and My Sister’s Keeper, and, with daughter Samantha van Leer, two young adult novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page. Picoult lives in New Hampshire.

More from Jodi Picoult

Jennifer Finney Boylan is the bestselling author of more than a dozen books. She is the inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University and a 2022–2023 Fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. A nationally known advocate for human rights, she is a trustee of PEN America. For many years she was the national co-chair of GLAAD as well as a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She lives in New York City and Belgrade Lakes, Maine, with her wife, Deedie. They have a son, Sean, and a daughter, Zai.

More from Jennifer Finney Boylan

Mad Honey

A Novel

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Mad Honey

— Published by Ballantine Books —