Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash
Maggie Thrash is not afraid to bring on the awkward in her graphic memoir, Honor Girl. There is so much angst here, as there should be when you have a fifteen year old girl struggling through her first non-Backstreet Boy crush, who also just happens female. And a counselor at her camp. Generally speaking all you need is camp+crush to achieve a good palm-sweat level of nervousness and stomach churning, but this really upped the ante.
Maggie is away at the same camp she has always gone to. And that her mother attended before her. And her mother before that. It is all girls and heavy on tradition. Maggie finds herself crushing on a counselor on the camp, a situation that she is certain will be frowned upon. When a fellow camper discovers her secret, she and Maggie strike up a friendship born of secrets. This new friendship sparks its own set of rumors, causing Maggie some problems, but the biggest troublemakers for her are the girls who surrounded her shooting rival, Libby. Libby’s always been the best shot at camp, but Maggie’s need to escape her thoughts has led her to excel, rising even above Libby. Libby’s friends take mean-girl bullying to the next level, making things physical at times.
I love the way friendships are shown in Honor Girl. The way a situational friendship, one that has occurred because of a shared situation, or secret information, can blossom and almost supplant those that were in place prior. It’s so very real the way you can be caught up with someone and end up telling them things that you wouldn’t tell people who are closer friends. That whirlwind is captured perfectly here.
A myriad of reactions to Maggie’s sexual orientation are shown in Honor Girl. From complete blasé acceptance, to good-natured teasing, to disbelief, brushing it off, requiring she keep her feelings hidden and of course, the old “you can change”, it shows a full range of reactions that a teen might face. Having so many different attitudes shown is great. I also appreciated that a counselor spoke to Maggie frankly about statutory rape and its potential consequences. This is so often glossed over in books. Teens are routinely shown as engaging in relationships that fall in this category and yet it is never brought up. But it’s a real thing and in Maggie’s case, where people’s reaction to the sexual orientation of the people involved might be negative, there is possibly even a greater chance of adult involvement in the case and a desire to prosecute.
Framed in a flashback that allows Maggie to give you the final outcome of her summer of realizations and longing, Honor Girl will strike a chord with all readers who have felt the bittersweet pull of summer love and the deep longing that it will be requited.
Age Recommendation: Grades 9+ due to language and because it features a high school student. But I would be happy to hand this to an 8th grader who was interested and would advocate making it available to anyone over Grade 6 who may have feelings for people of their own gender.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – a “sex quiz” is passed around in which campers record what base they’ve gotten to and who they’d like to lose their virginity to. There’s a joke that a camper is a sexual prisoner. There’s discussion of mooning people. Naked butts are shown. Campers discuss which boy is the cutest. Someone has seen one with his shirt off. There is teasing related to crushes. Love notes are written. There’s talk about a “gay code”. Maggie wonders if her feelings make her a pervert. There were rumors about a pair of campers, that they would wear each other’s underwear and sneak out together and were found together naked in a sleeping bag. Maggie’s crush is discovered, her secret in another’s hands. Penises are mentioned. There is handholding. There’s kissing. There are rumors spread. Campers joke about dressing like sluts. A boy calls a camper sexy. There’s a comment about being on all fours.
Profanity – “fucking”, “God”, “freaking”, “shit”, “for Christ sake”, “bitch”, “dickheads”, “moron”, “jiz face” “damn”, “asshole”, “twat”, “Jesus Christ”, also, while not profane, “midget” is a term that is considered offensive.
Death, Violence and Gore – The camp director would occasionally threaten to paddle the girls. Girls shoot guns at a rifle range, trying to earn a certification from the NRA. A girl slams another to the ground. A book is thrown at a camper’s face, cutting it and causing her to bleed. There is a joke about beating up boys. A camper jokes (I think) about being suicidal. A camper slaps another camper across the face, forcing her to the ground. A camper jokes about going on a killing spree. A camper says “say away from me or I’ll kill you”.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A boy tells a camper to “stay off the crack”. She is not using crack. Counselors are smoking. Campers speculate that the counselors are drinking alcohol. Someone who is hosting the campers is likely drunk and shown pouring a drink from a can that is very similar to a recognizable beer can.
Frightening or Intense Things – There’s some typical mean girl behavior. Rumors are spread about girls.