Friday Nights at Honeybee's (Smith)

Friday Nights at Honeybee's
Andrea Smith, 2003
Dell Publishing
306 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385336987

Everyone who's anyone in the Harlem music scene has heard of Honeybee McColor and the famous Friday night gathers that fill her house to bursting. In the early 1960s, nowhere but "The Big House" attracts so many renowned jazz and blues musicians—and no one but Miss Honeybee attracts talented lost souls like Forestine Bent and Viola Bembrey.

The two singers come from separate worlds: one the Brooklyn projects, the other the Baptist, rural South. One has a God-given voice and the ambition to be a star, the other a more subtle gift and a handful of hazy fantasies. But both learn the destructive consequences of following their hearts. They find sanctuary together under Honeybee's tender guidance, struggling to find the balancing point where music doesn't overpower love.

Including a passel of characters both wildly raunchy and remarkably dignified, Andrea Smith has woven an unforgettable tale overflowing with energy, heart, and humanity. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Andrea Smith has received fellowships from the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center and The New York Council on the Arts. She was born and raised in Brooklyn and now lives in Atlanta with her son. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Perceptive…penetrating…a rich and satisfying story of women who courageously carve out the lives they want rather than endure those prescribed for them.
Washington Post Book World

A love of music, a gift for song, and a healthy dose of bad judgment (when it comes to men) all harmonize to bring together the stories of two unique women in this accomplished first novel. Brooklyn-born-and-bred Forestine knows better than to count on her looks to take her where she wants to go. Strong-willed and confident, her single-minded ambition and a voice made for jazz will launch her onto the stage despite a lack of willowy beauty. But a passionate moment with her brother-in-law sends her on the road faster than she'd planned, yielding additional unanticipated lessons.

Viola, a South Carolinian beauty, finds herself on the wrong side of the Bible Belt after a brief extramarital dalliance. Excommunicated from her family's church and the only community she's ever known, Viola flees north to New York, a disillusioned young woman seeking to carve out a new life from the sanctuary of Honeybee's boarding house in Harlem.

Honeybee's is a legendary presence on the Harlem music scene. Her notorious Friday night "gathers" draw both well-known and nascent musical talents from far and wide for late-night jam sessions that feature riotous entertainment, authentic southern cooking, and musical networking galore. But Honeybee's is also famous for attracting lost souls, and Forestine and Viola sadly qualify. Though the trials they've been through would have most folks singing the blues to themselves, the hearts of these women are made of stronger stuff, as they prove that two are indeed better than one.
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Two young women unlucky in love but blessed with talent and friendship are at the core of this vibrant first novel.... The warmth and caring of Miss Honeybee's home supports both women through troubled times in this wonderful celebration of music and community. —Michele Leber

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Friday Nights at Honeybee's

1. Talk about the differences between Viola and Forestine— their personalities and their backgrounds which led them to Honeybee's. Do you sympathize or identify with one over the other?

2. Is Viola to blame for her excommunication? What were her feelings toward her husband, and what was she looking for that she didn't find in her marriage?

3.What are the roles played by the two different mothers in this book? To what extent did they shape their daughters' lives? What about the fathers? Honeybee becomes a surrogate mother for both young women. How does she help them?

4. Would you enjoy the atmosphere at Honeybee's? Does Smith do a good job of picturing the boarding house, its smells and sounds, the characters who live there...and, of course, the wonderful music played there?

5. Do you feel you've learned something about, or gained a greater appreciation for, jazz, R & B, and blues?

6. What might Smith be suggesting as she explores the tug-of-war for women between pursuing careers vs. taking on the more tradition roles of wife and motherhood? How have those issues been resolved more than 40 years later? Are they resolved?

7. Do both women make the right decisions by the end of the book? What does each learn? Were you satisfied with the ending?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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