Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.
Review: Honor Girl is a poignant graphic memoir that explores first love, self discovery, and identity. Thrash zeroes in a pivotal bittersweet summer that changed her outlook on life. At age 15, Maggie returned to Camp Bellflower for Girls, a conservative Christian camp located in Kentucky that she'd been attending for years. Following traditions including Civil War re-enactments is expected and required. Maggie has aspired to be named Honor Girl, an award given each year to the girl who exemplified the camp's spirit, but this year is very different. Her normal fun-filled, carefree world is slowly shifting and becoming constrictive especially when she is being drawn to Erin, an older counselor. Now Maggie is focusing her attention to forging and expressing her own identity.
The illustrations for Honor Girl are deceptively subdued and ordinary yet raw and have a sketchbook feeling to them. We see Maggie go through every day, slice-of-life moments such as handling conflicts with mean girls, gossip and rumors as well as confiding in confidants. These banal moments contain deeper meaning. Thrash effortlessly conveys the awkwardness of coming into one's own. The tone of the mercurial teen is spot-on, morphing from funny and quirky to quiet and contemplative especially when a romantic, chaste relationship is budding between Maggie and Erin. There are light moments that feature pop culture such as Maggie's unabashed love for the Backstreet Boys (who I also loved as a teen) along with darker historical references such as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which the camp abides. Maggie's reluctance to come out at camp rings true though it made me feel so sad that she could not be open about her romance like the other campers. Readers regardless of their own sexual identity will relate to the awkwardness and uncertainty of first love in Maggie's memoir.
Rating: 4 stars
Words of Caution: There is some language and some crude humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.
If you like this book try: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Long Red Hair by Meags Fitzgerald