“God bless these twenty-somethings” SZA sings on the final track of her groundbreaking 2017 album, CTRL, and though it’s a four-year-old song, it feels like the soundtrack to Morgan Rogers’ brilliant 2021 debut novel, Honey Girl.
Honey Girl tells the story of Grace Porter, a queer Black woman in her late twenties who works her ass off to earn a PhD in astronomy, takes one little trip to Vegas, and wakes up married to a mystery woman. Since uprooting her life following her parents’ divorce, Grace has been pressured to “follow her plan” by her military father. She’s a perfectionist who pushes herself to her absolute limits in order to make her father proud. So when Grace finds herself faced with a stranger for a wife and a racist job market, she realizes she may need a break from her “plan,” or perhaps, some major changes.
Some might argue that Honey Girl is a love story, a queer romance novel of sorts. Rogers wields a lesbian relationship so gentle and hopeful, it will turn even the biggest queer cynic into a sappy romantic. But this book is not just about queer romance. It’s about reclaiming identity and hitting the reset button in order to forge your own path. It’s not just about falling in love with a partner, it’s about falling so hard in love with your friends that they become your family.
With a no-nonsense father and an often-absent mother, we learn early on that Grace has formed her own families to survive. Ximena and Agnes, Grace’s best friends/roommates, are also a couple of queer twenty-somethings just trying to get by. Ximena, an Afro-Dominican nurse, is equal parts nurturing and tough love. “Ximena is who she will grab onto when the world ends,” the narrator says of Grace. “And they will watch it burn to ash before they follow.” Agnes, who Grace and Ximena refer to as their “feral white girl,” is outspoken and brash, but always showing love in subtle ways, especially when it comes to Grace’s struggles with mental illness. Rogers crafts their queer found family beautifully, the three of them always supporting one another, always cuddling up together when they need affection or comfort, always repeating “I love you so much it hurts.”
Grace also has Meera and Raj—her other found family. Meera and Raj’s father owns the White Pearl Tea Room where Grace works part-time for what seems like the entirety of her time in college and grad school (a routine many twenty-something millennials can relate to). Meera, who is studying psychology, is always pulling the truth out of Grace and comforting her with sweet words and understanding. Raj, who Grace calls her “big brother,” tries to protect her just as much as he teases her. Meera and Raj’s father, Baba Vihaan, even fills in as a softer version of a father figure for Grace.
So when Grace decides to head to New York to spend the summer with her new mystery wife, a late night radio show host named Yuki Yamamoto, she does so with the confidence that her found family will still be waiting for her back home once she figures out what’s next. Even if she winds up disappointing her blood family in the process, Ximena, Agnes, Meera, and Raj will still be there to lift her up.
Once she begins listening to Yuki’s radio show and talking with her on the regular, Grace knows her wife is loving, witty, and full of knowledge on the origin stories of mythical monsters and “lonely creatures.” What she doesn’t know is that Yuki also comes with a queer found family of her own. Yuki’s roommates—Dhorian, the medical resident who’s always tired from working nightshifts, Sani, the sassy trans masc MMA fighter, and Fletcher, the glitter-happy first grade teacher—all welcome Grace with open arms and gay jokes upon her arrival to Brooklyn. The bond Yuki shares with her roommates is a familiar one for LGBTQ+ twenty-somethings. “My weird, queer family I made myself,” she calls them, and Grace fits right in.
Every queer character in Honey Girl is a twenty-something millennial, trying to survive, to create a future for themselves, and leaning on one another in the process. For Grace, these characters fill in the gaps left by her blood family. Ximena promises to be a constant in Grace’s life, someone who will never flee the way her mother has time and time again. Yuki encourages Grace to think about what being “the best” means to her, rather than what it has always meant to her father. Agnes takes notice of and addresses Grace’s self-harming habits, which her parents are completely unaware of. It’s true that ultimately Grace must learn how to take care of herself in order to move forward with her life, but without her found family, she wouldn’t know where to begin.
In the same way that Grace’s found family are parts of a whole version of herself, the supporting characters, their witty dialogue, and their background stories are smaller, yet necessary parts of Honey Girl that make the novel whole.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of all the queer characters in Honey Girl is that not a single one of their stories revolves around their “coming out”. While coming out narratives are important, stories where LGBTQ+ characters’ sexuality or gender identity is not the main plot point are equally as necessary. The brilliance of the found families Rogers constructs in Honey Girl is that she never needs to explicitly detail the notion that these characters are bonded by their queerness and the world’s reaction to it. That bond is implied by their closeness, their ability to communicate, and their deep, unending love for one another.
When SZA sings, “Good luck on them twenty-somethings,” it sounds like a challenge. But it’s a challenge Rogers’ debut prepares us to face. Though Honey Girl is ultimately about Grace’s journey of self-discovery, the book demonstrates just how crucial found families are to queer identities. Finding love doesn’t save Grace. She finds love, in all of its many forms, and then, she saves herself.