A drought, a beekeeper, and a simple advertisement for an artist's commune on a remote honey farm brings Silvia, a recent graduate without a path, Ibrahim, a painter who needs space to be an artist, and a motley crew of other creatives together. When they arrive, things are a little stranger than they expected.
Before I begin this review, I have to tell you this: I have an unusual affinity for bees. I loved the furry bumblebees when I was younger, and was delighted to find out how much they keep this earth turning as I grew older. During my many years as a babysitter, I definitely wracked up a few hours trying to convince children to abandon their fear of these creatures and appreciate all they do. (With very little success, I might add.) So a book set on a remote honey farm was one hundred and ten percent up my alley and I requested The Honey Farm with hearts in my eyes.
I was not disappointed by this book. A debut from a young author, The Honey Farm is well-researched and subtly informs a reader on the lifecycles of bees, on the role of a queen bee, and the ways in which humans interact with bees. However, this aspect of the book is just one layer of what felt like a twenty-five layer cake. On one hand, the tone is eerie and gives a reader the feeling of being off-kilter the entire time, but, on the other, the actual premise brings together people from many different backgrounds to live a familial existence on a quaint farm. Along the way, the book also addresses religion, nature versus nurture, creativity and artistry, power dynamics, and so many more interesting topics. I am starry-eyed by Lye's ability to meld all of these themes and so many more together to create a coherent, enchanting novel.
There's also something to be said about some good, old-fashioned, bring-this-up-in-lit-class symbolism. Silvia, our main character, notes biblical plagues with increasing worry during her time at the farm. Red water, frogs, swarms, a plague. My brain is itching to unpack all of this and weave it in with the guilt she reckons with once she leaves her Catholic upbringing for the freedom of the honey farm. And don't get me started on the beekeeper, Cynthia, who is just rife with symbolism.
Speaking of, can't review this book without touching on the characterization that is so alive in The Honey Farm. Cynthia, who is the "queen" of The Honey Farm, acts as an authority figure and, sometimes, a sociopath. I loved both knowing Cynthia and also seeing the mystery wrapped tightly around her past. Lye also creates characterization in the void with Cynthia's right-hand man, Hartford. We know almost nothing about this man, yet he is interesting in spite of this or, perhaps, because of this.
Even our most well-developed characters have a hint of mystery and a communication barrier between the reader, as the novel is written in third person omniscient. I found myself increasingly getting frustrated with Silvia for her lack of communication skills in all aspects of her life, yet I found this extremely genuine. A young adult who is thrust into very adult scenarios would find it challenging to make up the ground between the two.
Finally, the ending. I'm not going to spell it out in case you haven't read the book yet, but I will say that it's open-ended. I'm not a huge fan of this type of mysterious "dot dot dot" type of sign-off. Even in this book, which I adored, I wanted to know more. But, I can appreciate that this type of ending fit with the tone of The Honey Farm and I will eventually make peace with inventing my own ending.
So, in short, go read this book. The Honey Farm is beautifully written and utterly dissectable.
Thank you to Liveright Publishing for sending me this free copy!
PUBLISHING DETAILS: Liveright Publishing; May 29, 2018; 328 pp.; 978-1631494345. Fiction -? Literary Fiction.