By Maggie Thrash
Penguin Random House, 2015
Do you remember your first love? I do—he was five years older than me, wore a red beanie, and had a motorcycle. Pretty cliché, I know. Maggie Thrash’s memoir, Honor Girl, is anything but cliché. With her poignant illustrations and honest commentary, Thrash perfectly captures the whirlwind-in-an-earthquake feeling that comes with growing up. And with finding your first love
Thrash’s memoir is pretty unique—she doesn’t try to write about her entire life and, well, she’s not running for political office so she’s not trying to win you over. She chooses one summer, one summer that changed everything, and then she draws about it. That’s right, her memoir is graphic—a mix of words and pictures that reminds you that sometimes the best lessons are not taught in the textbooks.
It is tradition that young Maggie Thrash goes to Camp Bellflower, situated deep in Appalachia country. Camp Bellflower is full of camp-like things like survival training, tennis courts, canoeing, and cute camp counselors. At first, Maggie thinks it’s going to be like any other summer. She’s fifteen and in love with the Backstreet Boys. For the camp talent show, she dresses up as Kevin Richardson and sings the iconic “You are my fire/ The one desire/ Believe…when I say/ I want it that way” (36). Just for the record, she shuts the place down. She definitely didn’t think that she’d fall in love. It was the farthest thing from her mind. She really just wanted to get her Distinguished Expert badge in rifling. But then she meets Erin.
Erin is a camp counselor. She’s a young woman, and a young woman loving a young woman is a bit, shall we say, odd, at Camp Bellflower. Just to give you an idea of the atmosphere, Thrash writes, “My mom went there, and her mom went there, and nothing had changed since 1922” (8). But, as many of us know, tradition can’t stop young love. Otherwise, Juliet would have told Romeo to get off her balcony. Erin and Maggie do what young lovers do—they hesitate, they watch each other from behind trees, they write notes to each other. The anticipation builds with each turning page. The romantic in me waits, not so patiently, for them to kiss: “it was my responsibility to make this kiss happen, if it was going to happen at all…Her fingers brushed my neck for a second. Then she dropped her hand and it was over” (150-1). Maggie dreams about Erin, about them kissing and being together. But, as with all first loves, it can’t last forever.
In one of the most gut-wrenching panels, Thrash illustrates another counselor telling the young Maggie that to love Erin is to make everyone else feel unsafe: “Parents don’t send their girls here to frolic around in your lesbian fantasy. I mean, we all know Erin’s…that way. But she’s always managed to control herself” (172). Maggie, in trying to discover her own identity, her own way of loving and of being loved, has just met with her first case of discrimination. The ensuing pages are hard to read, but Thrash writes them with such refreshing veracity that you won’t be able to cry for long. Indeed, one of the funniest panels is when Maggie and her friend Bethany are wondering if Erin wrote a song, entitled “Untouchable Angel,” about Maggie. Bethany swears that the song is about Maggie, but Maggie is not convinced: “‘The song’s probably not even about me. It’s probably about…a dog.’ ‘A dog? An untouchable dog?’ ‘Yeah, like, it rolled around in garbage, so it’s all filthy” (219). I’ll give you a spoiler: you so want Bethany to be right.
With that, I have to urge you to go out right now, find this book, plop down, and read it. Thrash writes with such potency, a lot of sass, and straight-up honesty that takes you right into the world of young Maggie—you root for her, you cry with her, you want to cut your hair with her because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there. I can’t tell you how it ends, because it doesn’t really end. There is much more to the story, to Thrash’s and to yours. And it is up to us to draw the ending.