Review: Honey Girl by Lisa Freeman

Honey Girl by Lisa Freeman

The year is 1972. Fifteen-year-old Haunani “Nani” Grace Nuuhiwa is transplanted from her home in Hawaii to Santa Monica, California after her father’s fatal heart attack. Now the proverbial fish-out-of-water, Nani struggles to adjust to her new life with her alcoholic white (haole) mother and the lineup of mean girls who rule State Beach.

Following “The Rules”—an unspoken list of dos and don’ts—Nani makes contact with Rox, the leader of the lineup. Through a harrowing series of initiations, Nani not only gets accepted into the lineup, she gains the attention of surf god, Nigel McBride. But maintaining stardom is harder than achieving it. Nani is keeping several secrets that, if revealed, could ruin everything she’s worked so hard to achieve. Secret #1: She’s stolen her dad’s ashes and hidden them from her mom. Secret #2: In order to get in with Rox and her crew, she spied on them and now knows far more than they could ever let her get away with. And most deadly of all, Secret #3: She likes girls, and may very well be in love with Rox.

Title: Honey Girl
Author: Lisa Freeman
Publication date: March 17, 2015

I received Honey Girl from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review.

Honey Girl is not about a girl surfer. Let me just state that right now, because that’s what I thought it was about. The synopsis never says that Nani surfs, but it sure does imply it. But it’s 1972 and one of the Rules that Nani adheres to is that “Girls don’t surf.” Not if they want to be accepted by “the lineup,” the coolest girls on the beach, they don’t. The lineup’s sole job seems to be sitting the beach looking pretty and being cool. They’re basically fluffers for the guys, who do get to surf.

Nani and her mother have just moved to California from Hawaii, where she grew up, after her father’s untimely death from a heart attack (which Nani witnessed). Nani thinks a lot about Hawaii and about the Rules that she learned from her friend Annie Iopa. Oh, I did get tired of hearing about Annie Iopa, who goes by both name (at least in Nani’s mind), much like Jordan Catalano. It’s unclear how old Annie Iopa is, but I got the impression that she’s a little older, so in her twenties, maybe? And I wasn’t sure if Nani has a crush on her or if she just hero-worships her. Annie knows all about the Rules and she’s taught Nani the extensive list. I would be afraid to breathe for fear of violating one of the Rules.

I don’t know how accurate the setting is, because I wasn’t in Southern California (or anywhere else) in 1972, but it’s a very complete picture. Everyone and everything is described so well that I felt like I was there. I could see the various groups on the beach, almost all locals but segregated. The lineup, the surfers, the Topanga girls, the gay guys all have their own section. There’s even a homeless man and his dog.

Breaking into the lineup isn’t exactly easy, but Nani gives it her best shot, getting noticed on her first day at State Beach. Whether or not getting noticed is a good thing is a matter of opinion. The girls of the lineup are fiercely loyal to one another, on the surface anyway, and there may not be room for another member.

In addition to navigating a new social scene, Nani is still very much grieving her father. It’s been just over two months since his death and she and her mother are both still coming to terms with it. Her mother is selling his bar, a place that Nani was planning to take over in a few years, and she’s relying on his business partner to get a good price. She’s working night shifts in a hospital and drinking too much, leaving Nani alone to do whatever she wants. They clash a lot when they are together.

I had trouble connecting with Nani. I’m not sure if I liked her or not. I guess I’m indifferent, but I did find Honey Girl an interesting book to read because of the unique setting. I was interested in what happened to Nani and whether she made it into the lineup, even though I didn’t really care about her, if that makes sense.

I still wish she had been a surfer though.

3 1/2 stars