Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers opens with 28-year-old Dr. Grace Porter celebrating her PhD in astronomy with a girls’ trip to Las Vegas, which ends with Grace drunkenly marrying Yuki, a woman she meets that night. The dreamy, lyrical prose describing her wife and the way Grace feels when she’s with her instantly makes clear this isn’t an embarrassing mistake to be undone as quickly as possible. This is a new beginning for Grace, a swerve from her otherwise carefully planned life. It sets her on a path to figuring out if she actually wants the idealized visions of success she’s felt compelled to pursue all her life.
Yuki, who hosts a late-night radio show for “lonely creatures” when she’s not busy waitressing, leans into everything Grace has been conditioned to believe works against her pursuit of success. These two characters work remarkably well as foils to one another. Yuki helps reveal to Grace what she’ll lose if she continues sacrificing personal relationships and mental health in order to grasp at professional opportunities that aren’t promised. She teaches Grace it’s okay to toss the entire script and redefine what’s best for her. And Grace grounds Yuki, who’s constantly getting lost in fleeting adventures from her listeners as she searches wearily for a home in her very own story. It is such a delight to witness these fully realized characters learn how to weave their lives together and grow into better people as a result.
The monster motif—particularly persistent in Yuki’s radio shows about actual supernatural creatures—is most striking when Rogers employs it as a metaphor in Grace’s struggle to find belonging. It is only in refusing to be the monster in her own story—the element that won’t fit or conform—that empowers Grace to start prioritizing herself by attending therapy to be better present in her own life. This part of the novel is messy and emotional and often difficult to read, but learning to be kind to yourself—to be your best self—is hard work.
Grace’s parents—her father, especially—cement the idea that you’re never too old for a coming-of-age. Colonel, her ex-military father, might initially remind readers of toxic parental figures who’re immovable forces against progress and growth. But he eventually reveals his own struggles and anxieties, making his point-of-view more understandable. Grace’s relationship with Colonel is complicated and nuanced; they’re rarely on the same page as she begins to explore what will make her happy, but Rogers never makes him Grace’s enemy. Grace’s upbringing is different from her father’s, which causes much of the strife in their relationship, but ultimately, they both want Grace’s happiness. It’s worth noting, however, that were it not for the importance Rogers places on communication between all her characters, Grace and Colonel might never have moved past their misunderstandings. Of course, communication only works when both sides are willing to engage.
At its core, Honey Girl is largely a novel about queer friendships and found family. Grace and Yuki each boast a quirky cast of warm, caring companions who offer support, witty banter, and sage advice as they strive to build a life together. The characters who orbit Grace and Yuki also have their own romances and dramas, making their social lives especially immersive and comforting for readers.
As a woman of color who’s also earned a PhD, I love this novel for how it so precisely gives voice to the anxiety and existential dread that comes with attempting to balance what is expected of me personally and culturally alongside the urgency of what I yearn to achieve professionally within an institutional model that relies on outdated narratives and histories to define value in a system that doubts and excludes me at its ivory tower core.
Rogers does the important work of shining a light on this tension by broaching difficult topics that don’t always have easy answers. And she gifts us with Grace, who chooses to invest in herself when she comes to terms with the reality that is an academic system that will only suffer for its inability to make room for her at present.
Honey Girl refuses to endorse systems that demand contorting yourself into something unrecognizable and uncomfortable to fit within boxes you don’t even want. It champions self-care as the path towards self-empowerment; it highlights the value of finding your tribe and being a good friend. Finally, it reminds us that happiness and success are subjective concepts defined only as broadly as we allow.