Part 1: Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Review of their novel Mad Honey, includes spoilers.


I read this book following my attendance of an event held with the authors of the book – Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan – when they were (sort of) interviewed by Juno Dawson.

In the past I have been a big fan of Jodi Picoult, having read pretty much everything she has ever written. However, I stopped a few years ago.  I can’t remember the name of the book now but do remember finishing it feeling uneasy and disappointed about the glib manner in which a very serious sexual abuse storyline had been used and the conclusion the author had appeared arrived at.

Blurby bit for the book

Olivia fled her abusive marriage to return to her hometown and take over the family beekeeping business when her son Asher was six. Now, impossibly, her baby is six feet tall and in his last year of high school, a kind, good-looking, popular ice hockey star with a tiny sprite of a new girlfriend.

Lily also knows what it feels like to start over – when she and her mother relocated to New Hampshire it was all about a fresh start. She and Asher couldn’t help falling for each other, and Lily feels happy for the first time. But can she trust him completely?

Then Olivia gets a phone call – Lily is dead, and Asher is arrested on a charge of murder. As the case against him unfolds, she realises he has hidden more than he’s shared with her. And Olivia knows firsthand that the secrets we keep reflect the past we want to leave behind ­­- and that we rarely know the people we love well as we think we do.

Book jacket description


This book has been jointly written by Jodi Picoult and a trans-identified male, Jennifer Finney Boylan.  Picoult has handled the narrative of the character of the mother Olivia, which tells the story going forward from the murder of her son’s girlfriend, in which her son Asher is the main suspect.  Finney Boylan has taken the story of Lily, the teenage trans-identified male, told backwards through time, i.e. from the day before Lily’s murder and over the preceding weeks of his and Asher’s three month relationship.  However, they edited each other’s chapters and also wrote one chapter in the other’s character so that the book had a consistency, so it is fair to say that they are jointly responsible for the truly bad bits.

Big plot point

Picoult is on form with Finney Boylan managing keep up his side of the bargain.  I got through the first half of the book with only a few raised eyebrows but halfway through, after all the plot points and suspects are lined up, we discover that the murder victim, Lily, is transgender and had fully transitioned.  My beef with that isn’t that it is utterly ridiculous to find that out during a criminal trial when the autopsy report is being read out in court – let’s face it, only writers as good as Picoult can get away with such outlandishness.  No, my beef is this: once the cat is out the bag it then becomes a deranged propagandish rant about transgender politics and ideology with outrageous lies, but moreover the looming spectre of autogynephilia fully rears its head. 

First half of the book

Like I say the first half of the book really isn’t too bad. Some noticeable moments though include a hilarious and deliberate omitting of Harry Potter from the stack of children’s books that Lily lists in Asher’s room (page 59) and some really bad sex writing. For example, Lily, reflecting on penetrative sex, says ‘you never realize how empty you feel until you are filled’ (page 61). Ew.

Bee/honey metaphors

The main character Olivia is a beekeeper and bees are used to demonstrate the changing nature of sex in the natural world, which is obviously true for species which have that capacity, which bees do, being gynandromorphs. Also, the world famous clown fish gets a mention (page 232). Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be right to leave them out.

Picoult is genuinely trying to explain to her readers, since she clearly is a true believer in trans, how humans come to ‘change sex’, but she does this by looking away from mammals and instead at insects, clownfish and frogs (basically anything but mammals) and comes to a rather strange conclusion:

A change of sex occurs, in the animal world, when it is beneficial to the continuation of the species.

page 233, Olivia’s narration

Which is clearly untrue for the type of medical and surgical ‘treatments’ currently being propagated for humans, the diametric opposite in fact, as the majority will end up sterilised from cross sex hormone abuse alone.

The book is named Mad Honey after the hallucinogenic honey produced from the pollen of rhododendrons, which can cause paralysis and even death. Mad honey has been used in warfare, hence the term ‘honeytrap’. It’s an unfortunate image to have settled on.

The transgender characters

Lily isn’t the only transgender character, there are two other minor characters, and also cameo appearances by two non-binary females who breast bind and take testosterone and run the school LGBTQ group (page 355). But let’s start with Lily.

Lily, the trans girl murder victim

It is the first page of ‘Lily Chapter 5 – Five weeks before’ (page 205) that we learn that Lily used to be Liam. Lily rues the fact he hadn’t been brave enough to come out ‘age six, or younger’.

Because I was lucky enough to get on puberty blockers, and do my transition young, people think I’m cis, they think I’m just like they are.

page 216

We learn that the first time Lily had sex with Asher he was completely unaware that Lily had had a vaginoplasty, despite the surgery having only been done ‘a year and a half ago’ (page 216). Asher is also decidedly unbothered by the fact that he has been the victim of sex by deception (as are the authors). We also learn there has been a serious suicide attempt and estrangement from the father, who doesn’t accept Lily is trans, and who sings ‘Oranges and Lemons’, echoing the nursery rhyme’s menacing use in George Orwell’s 1984.

We are told that: ‘Transgender people get murdered all the time in this country […] because someone else finds out the truth’ (page 209).

Puberty blockers were started age 12 and surgery was performed aged 17 (i.e. still a minor). Although it isn’t exactly made clear, it sounds as if Lily starts Lupron as a puberty blocker after the first consult (page 359) and then a year later switched onto oestrogen and spironolactone (page 360).

But remember tweeps, this is just fiction and definitely isn’t happening to real children in real life in the US.

Dr Powers, the butcher surgeon

On the subject of fiction, the surgeon who performed Lily’s genital mutilation surgery is called Dr Monica Powers. Yes, seriously. Dr Powers is introduced on page 217 and is referred to only as Dr Powers at first, so we don’t make the connection immediately. However, on page 267 we learn Dr Powers’ first name is Monica and runs ‘one of the best transgender medical clinics in the country’ and we literally scream. 

Chapter 8 – Olivia – page 328

Dr Powers’ clinic is in Burlingame, California just like Dr Marci Bowers.  We also learn that Lily’s mom had talked directly to Dr Powers about arranging surgery without the prior consent or knowledge of Lily. Mom tells Lily he has to be eighteen but that:

“Dr. Powers accepts clients as young as seventeen, if they’ve been on hormone blockers and been living successfully as themselves in the world. Which you have.”

page 267

Of course he does.

We also learn that Dr Powers told Lily that after surgery he will become ‘sensate, mucosal, orgasmic‘ (page 272) which is indicative of Powers’ inappropriate sexualised attitude to his patients, I guess.

Dr Powers looks at people over the top of his glasses.

Dr Marci Bowers – no connection to Dr Monica Powers

Powers is called to give evidence at the trial and on the stand gives a professional opinion which sounds as if it is directly lifted from current WPATH guidelines (because it is). 

“Lily’s surgery was at seventeen, though,” the prosecutor says. “She wasn’t even of legal age. That’s extremely young, isn’t it?”

“Honestly, no. It’s what I’m now recommending. I look for a combination of physical and emotional maturity in the child. If surgery is done precollege it also means they have the watchful eyes of their parents […] to make sure the aftercare is kept up.”

page 333-4

That aftercare being the ‘daily dilation of the vagina for six months’ (page 334). Quite exactly how a parent would enforce this and why it would be appropriate is not explained. Nor why such an individual would even need any coaching when they had already achieved such a high level of emotional maturity.

The testimony that Dr Powers’ surgical skills are so adept that it would have been impossible for Asher to tell that Lily was trans, helps Asher’s case because the defence can argue that Asher was not motivated by hate. 

In contrast to the admission by Dr Marci Bowers, in the video below, that children who have been puberty blocked at Tanner stage 2 will never orgasm (that’s around the age of 12) , Lily tell us he is subject to intense surprise ‘vaginal’ orgasms and that:

Dr Powers explained it to me once; because of the way my parts have been turned inside themselves, a lot of the most tender tissue now rests right up against my bladder.

page 317

Yet another inappropriate doctor/patient conversation based on a complete fiction.

Make no mistake, this is real product placement.

Lizzy/Elizabeth, previously Edgar

We are introduced Lizzy, when Lily goes to buy some cello strings and Lizzy is described as having a ‘five o’clock shadow’ and deep manly voice (page 213) with bad makeup with eyeliner which wobbles all over his eyelids and too much mascara (page 215). Finney Boylan basically conjures up a basement dweller. Because Lily and Lizzy both have a t-dar they immediately recognise each other as trans.

Later Olivia, after learning that Lily was trans, goes to visit Elizabeth to educate herself, which is used a device to give us our own transgender awareness training session. For example, the acronyms AFAB and AMAB are explained (page 237), the concept of ‘cis’ and the trans umbrella, which notably does includes cross dressers for titillation, and the fact that not everyone wants or needs surgery to be considered trans and it is ‘none of your fucking business’ (page 238) anyhow. If only all trans awareness training could be just that concise.

“Being gay or straight,” says Elizabeth, “is about who you want to go to bed with. Being trans – or cis – is about who you want to go to bed as.”

page 238

We are told that the character transitioned aged 45, but of course knew aged 10, and who has never surgically transitioned (so much for it being none of our business). Elizabeth has been on cross sex hormones for 22 years. He is also described as six foot four and weighing three hundred pounds – that’s about 22 stone – (page 241). Do you know who else was that age-ish when they transitioned and is about that tall/heavy? Finney Boylan himself. I stood next to him briefly at Waterstones bookshop and felt completely dwarfed by him.

Olivia feels really very sorry and sad that Elizabeth passes so badly with his deep voice, bad make-up and huge Adam’s apple. She’s also really upset that two teenage girls, who she and Elizabeth pass on their walk together, giggle at his appearance:

How similar does someone have to be to you before you remember to see them, first, as human?

page 242, Olivia

Other outrages

Too many to cram in here, but here is a short selection.

The complete omission of any serious discussion about the effect that Lupron, the puberty blocking agent, has on bone health, nor the side effects of oestrogen and spironolactone are offered. However, although the condition Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia Purpura, as linked to oestrogen use, is used to explain why Lily died as a result of falling down the stairs, none of the characters have anything to say about whether this is a bad thing. Which is a bad thing when it relates to real people really taking drugs.

The father, who opposes Lily’s transition, is cast as a sinister and raving lunatic, who turns up at Lily’s sporting event to shout at him publicly and ‘deadname’ him and is finally carted off, practically in a straitjacket. Lily shudders with fear at remembering that dad told him that he ‘can be anything you want to be’ (page 322), setting up parents in real life to be painted as abusive for voicing simple encouragement.

Lily’s surgery is also signed off without the father’s consent after the mother seeks a legal redress (page 285). This is only mentioned briefly when Lily’s mother takes the stand during trial and the character is completely excused by the narrator, and therefore the authors, for having concealed the fact that Lily was transgender from the police and the court.

The LGBTQ club at Lily’s school has had days out in the past to listen to lectures by Janet Mock, a man who promotes child prostitution as empowerment, and Kate Bornstein, a man who identifies as a lesbian and who publicly talks about being into sadomasochism. Right.

No wonder Picoult has gone on a blocking spree, I think I’d be more inclined to fake my own death.

A dangerous book

One of the things this book does really well is fully persuade you in the first half of the book that Lily is a girl (I knew one of the characters was going to be trans but genuinely couldn’t tell which way it was going to go) and after the revelation and for the rest of the book my mind was totally convinced that Lily was really a girl. It is very persuasive.

I also want to say that this is not a badly written book. After I tweeted the page about Dr Monica Powers many tweeps pitched up to say that it was spectacularly bad writing. It isn’t bad writing, far from it. It is a particular genre of writing though and if it was easy to do you would see successful literary writers cash in on it, but they don’t because they can’t. It is also why we must take it seriously as this is a popular writer and the novel will be read by tens of thousands of people at a minimum. Just wait until it gets put on Richard and Judy’s, Oprah’s book club, etc.

No, what is bad about the book, is that Picoult’s huge female fanbase will read this book believing factual information has been presented, as Picoult is renowned for doing extensive research into the issues she writes about (or at least this is the impression Picoult has cultivated for herself) and I’m certain this is why Finney Boylan has piggybacked her. Either way, the promised outcomes for vaginoplasty surgery are falsified in a shockingly vile pornified way and will literally result in the pinging of a certain butcher’s cash register. It simply is not possible to experience an orgasm in a surgically created hole make out of scrotal tissue and no integral muscle. Perhaps Picoult is victim to a bit of mad honey herself?

“I’m Trans, But Regret My Penis Inversion Surgery” : Male To Female Detrans Speaks Out

The link to Part 2 of the blog is linked here.

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Please share on other forums if you liked it, as I only do Twitter.


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