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Mad Honey Summary, Characters, Review and Themes

In “Mad Honey,” a gripping novel co-authored by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, readers are plunged into a compelling narrative that intertwines themes of love, identity, and the haunting specter of violence. 

Set against the backdrop of a small New Hampshire town, this story unfolds through the eyes of two protagonists: Olivia McAfee and Lily Campanello, each bearing their own deep-seated struggles and secrets.


At the heart of “Mad Honey” is the mysterious death of Lily Campanello, an 18-year-old girl whose life comes to a sudden, tragic end. 

Born Liam O’Meara, Lily is a trans girl who has bravely navigated her journey of self-discovery and acceptance. After a harrowing experience with her abusive father and a devastating public humiliation at a school dance, Lily and her supportive mother, Ava, relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, seeking a fresh start.

In Adams, Lily’s life becomes intertwined with Asher Fields, a kind-hearted teenager with his own troubled past. Asher, raised by his mother Olivia, an apiarist, has a history shadowed by his father’s abusive behavior. As Lily and Asher’s romance blossoms, secrets loom large. 

Lily, still grappling with her past traumas, withholds her transgender identity from Asher, fearing rejection and heartache.

Parallel to Lily’s story is that of Olivia McAfee, Asher’s mother. Olivia, having endured an abusive marriage, sees echoes of her ex-husband in Asher. When Lily’s death occurs, and Asher is implicated, Olivia is torn between her maternal instincts and the haunting doubts about her son’s innocence.

The ensuing trial becomes a crucible for all involved. 

Asher’s arrest and subsequent trial for Lily’s murder bring to light painful truths and hidden aspects of each character’s life. 

The revelation of Lily’s gender identity shocks the courtroom, adding layers of complexity to the case. Asher’s defense hinges on challenging the assumptions about Lily’s death, leading to a startling discovery about her medical condition.

In a dramatic twist, it’s revealed that Maya Banerjee, Asher’s lifelong friend and secretly in love with him, inadvertently caused Lily’s death during a heated argument. 

This revelation, while exonerating Asher, adds a poignant layer to the narrative, exploring themes of unrequited love and the tragic consequences of impulsive actions.

As the story concludes, the characters grapple with their grief and the repercussions of Lily’s death. 

Asher heads to college, carrying the weight of these events, while Ava leaves Adams with a token of hope from Olivia. 

In the end, “Mad Honey” leaves readers reflecting on the complexities of human emotions, the resilience in the face of adversity, and the enduring power of love and acceptance.


1. Olivia McAfee

The Resilient Protector

Olivia, a single mother and dedicated apiarist, stands as a symbol of resilience and protective love. 

Escaping an abusive marriage, she becomes a fiercely devoted mother to Asher, constantly battling her fears of the past repeating itself. Olivia’s journey is marked by a delicate balance between her haunting memories and her unwavering commitment to her son. 

Her character provides a profound insight into the struggles of a mother torn between past traumas and the deep love for her child.

2. Lily Campanello

The Brave Heart 

Lily’s narrative is a poignant portrayal of courage and vulnerability. 

As a transgender girl grappling with her identity, Lily’s life is a testament to the trials and triumphs of living one’s truth in the face of adversity. Her journey from a turbulent childhood to finding love with Asher highlights her resilience. 

Lily’s character is a beacon of hope and strength, demonstrating the power of acceptance and love in overcoming life’s harshest challenges.

3. Asher Fields

The Sensitive Soul 

Asher, Olivia’s son, emerges as a character of deep sensitivity and complexity. His life is intricately woven with the desire for acceptance and understanding, particularly in his relationship with his father. 

Asher’s love for Lily showcases his capacity for deep empathy and acceptance. 

Yet, his struggle with his familial legacy and the fear of inheriting his father’s abusive tendencies adds a layer of profound introspection to his character.

4. Ava Campanello

The Unwavering Supporter 

Ava, Lily’s mother, is the epitome of unconditional love and support. Her journey mirrors that of Olivia’s, yet with a unique perspective shaped by her daughter’s transgender identity. 

Ava’s character underlines the challenges and beauty of a parent’s journey alongside their child’s transition. 

Her love for Lily is a powerful force, guiding her through every hardship and illuminating the strength of a mother’s love in the face of societal and personal challenges.

Mad Honey Summary

My Review

I have to say that this book is a beautifully intricate, heart-wrenching, and ultimately thought-provoking novel that explores profound themes of identity, love, betrayal, and the tragic consequences of society’s prejudices.

With a narrative style that transitions between the perspectives of Olivia and Lily, Picoult skillfully creates an intricate and suspenseful narrative, presenting a tragic story that unfolds slowly, drawing us deeper into the lives of the characters.

Lily, the trans protagonist, and her emotionally complex journey are crafted with a high degree of sensitivity and empathy.

Picoult’s detailed exploration of Lily’s transition process, the struggles she faces, and her attempt to navigate love and acceptance is something that definitely touched my heart. 

Lily’s relationship with Asher, fraught with the complexity of secrets and acceptance, adds a significant dimension to the narrative, embodying a powerful examination of love, trust, and the courage to be one’s authentic self.

Meanwhile, Olivia, with her relentless determination to protect her son, provides a counter-narrative that captures the heartrending struggle of a mother caught between her love for her child and the harsh realities of the world. 

Her storyline is interspersed with interesting details about her life as an apiarist, which serve as poetic metaphors for the novel’s thematic undercurrents.

Additionally, Picoult masterfully addresses the deep-seated prejudices that LGBTQ+ individuals often face. 

She does not shy away from the ugly truths, offering an unflinching portrayal of the injustices and cruelty directed towards Lily and the disastrous consequences that result from it. 

Coming to the latter stages of the novel, the courtroom drama provides us with a solid grip of the plot. 

The legal complexities, combined with the heart-stopping revelations and the unexpected plot twists, make for a compelling read. 

The careful weaving of medical nuances related to Lily’s condition into the narrative is commendable, providing a surprising twist that redefines the circumstances of Lily’s death.

However, the novel isn’t without its flaws. 

Some of you might find it challenging to reconcile with the occasional outbursts of violence from Asher. While his character is clearly meant to reflect the cycle of abuse, these instances can be unsettling and may distract from the broader narrative.

Despite this, “Mad Honey” remains a thought-provoking read that explores uncomfortable truths about our society. 

It successfully humanizes the experiences of trans individuals, portraying their struggles in a manner that is compassionate and empathetic.

Picoult’s poignant storytelling, combined with the book’s exploration of love, acceptance, and the price of prejudice, makes “Mad Honey” a significant contribution to contemporary literature. 

To sum up, if you are looking for a book that isn’t afraid to delve deep into the human psyche, unearthing our most potent emotions of love, hatred, acceptance, and prejudice, “Mad Honey” is the book for you. 

However, it’s essential to approach it with an open mind, ready to confront the harsh realities it presents. 

This is a book that challenges as much as it entertains, and therein lies its power.


1. The Complexities of Identity and Self-Acceptance

Central to the novel is the challenging journey of Lily Campanello, born Liam O’Meara, as she navigates the turbulent waters of her transgender identity. 

The novel explores the nuances of gender expression and the profound struggles faced by transgender individuals in a society often marked by misunderstanding and prejudice. 

Through Lily’s experiences, the story poignantly addresses the internal conflicts of self-acceptance and the external battles for acceptance in the community. 

The theme extends to other characters as well, each grappling with their own sense of identity, be it as a parent, a lover, or a friend, highlighting the universal quest for understanding and acceptance of one’s true self.

2. The Cycle of Abuse and Its Ripple Effects

Mad Honey delves into the harrowing impacts of domestic violence and abuse, not only on direct victims but also on those around them. 

Through the characters of Olivia McAfee and her son Asher, the novel examines how the cycle of abuse can perpetuate through generations. Olivia’s experiences with an abusive ex-husband and her fears of seeing similar traits in Asher underscore the lasting psychological scars left by domestic violence. 

The novel also explores the broader societal implications of this cycle, prompting readers to consider how patterns of abuse can be recognized, confronted, and hopefully broken.

3. The Intricacies of Love and Relationships

At its core, “Mad Honey” is a profound exploration of love in its many forms – romantic, familial, and platonic. The novel scrutinizes the complexities of relationships, particularly focusing on the romance between Lily and Asher, which is marked by secrets, vulnerabilities, and societal pressures. 

The challenges they face in their relationship, compounded by the struggles with their individual identities and pasts, paint a vivid picture of the difficulties in maintaining love amidst personal and external conflicts. 

Additionally, the story reflects on parental love and the often painful decisions parents must make for the well-being of their children, as seen through the characters of Olivia and Ava, each battling their own dilemmas in protecting their children.

Final Thoughts

“Mad Honey” is a deeply moving and complex narrative that masterfully weaves together themes of love, identity, and the lasting impact of trauma. 

The novel’s exploration of transgender issues is both sensitive and enlightening, providing a nuanced perspective on the challenges faced by trans individuals. 

This is not just a compelling story; it’s an important conversation starter about acceptance, understanding, and the human capacity for resilience and forgiveness.

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