By Lisa Freeman
Available now from Sky Pony Press (Skyhorse)
For a book from a small publisher, HONEY GIRL has been getting some strong word of mouth. It came up in two totally unrelated forums that I frequent and I just knew that I had to read it. Lesbian surfer girl? Sign me up! Of course, the problem with word of mouth is that the message can get a little garbled on the way.
I was sad when I started HONEY GIRL to discover that Nani Nuuhiwa doesn't surf. She knows how to, but she doesn't, because she wants to be cool. (And the consequences for being a girl that surfs can be way worse than a little social ostracism.) I would've thought that the 1970s were more open to girl surfers; after all, Gidget was almost twenty years earlier! But I do know progress can be slow. Plus, the setting is so wonderfully done.
Lisa Freeman nails the setting. HONEY GIRL takes place in a different time and place, one that doesn't exist any more. It takes place on State Beach, whose denizens must follow any number of unspoken rules in order to be accepted. Nani, moving to California from Hawaii, takes all the knowledge she learned from the coolest girl at her beach and puts it toward getting in with the locals at State. It's historical Mean Girls. Nani can be frustrating, with her dedication to a bunch of rules made mostly to keep girls in line, but it is such a true process. Sometimes you have to color within the lines to gain social capital.
Nani is afraid of coloring outside the lines, not the least because she likes girls (as well as boys). She's cool with who she is, but she knows what will happen to her if she comes out. And maybe it's a moot point, since she falls pretty hard for one of the surfers. (Even if she falls pretty hard for one of the girls on the beach too.) She's got enough trouble from being mixed race, especially since her mother wants her to just be white since her father's death.
Nani, in other words, is dealing with a lot. Her summer is something to behold, as she both comes closer to her original goal and to realizing who she really wants to be. HONEY GIRL is a coming of age story with an immersive sense of place and a heroine caught between her strong sense of self and the knowledge that who she is inside will never quite fit in.