Honeybee by Craig Silvey

‘I wasn’t cold, but I was shivering when I walked onto the Clayton Road overpass.’

Sam Watson is fourteen years old when he climbs over the rail on that overpass and looks down. He cannot see any alternative to a life he cannot bear living. He is not alone: Vic, an elderly man, is standing at the other end of that same overpass. Sam does not want any witnesses, so he waits. Vic is tired and ill and ready to join his wife Edie, who died ten years earlier. But he wants to stop Sam from jumping. An unlikely friendship is struck.

What has led Sam and Vic to this bridge? The story moves between Sam’s past and present. Sam cannot be who he wants to be, and he is caught in an awful home situation. He does not think that his mother needs him anymore, now that his stepfather Steve is in control. Sam stays with Vic, and Vic tells him something of his own life, of his happiness with Edie and of things that have gone wrong. 

‘Edie’s diaries made me realise life was made up of lots of small moments that you could control and a few big ones that you couldn’t.’

Sam and Vic want to help each other but how does a fourteen-year-old learn to trust when years of bullying has caused him to develop such impressive defences against the world? How can Sam be himself when, in the past, he has been ridiculed and punished for being different? While Vic accepts Sam, he is elderly and ill. And not everyone sees their friendship as altruistic.

I became lost in this novel, unable to put it down, afraid to reach the end because I was not sure what would happen. I was pleased when Sam made friends who accepted and helped him, such as Agnes, Peter, and Diane. I liked Vic and I was delighted with his acceptance of Sam but struggled a little with how accepting he was. I finished the novel wishing that every person suffering from gender dysphoria could have a Vic, an Agnes, a Peter, and a Diane in their lives.

This novel contains some difficult themes, including domestic violence, drug abuse, gender dysphoria, and self-harm. Sam felt very real to me, as did most of the other characters.

‘It has nothing to do with you. And I’m not wrong, I’m me. And I don’t want to be invisible anymore.  I want people to see who I am.’

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith