Written and illustrated by Maggie Thrash, Honor Girl is a memoir in graphic novel form that follows one summer in her life. At fifteen, Maggie has spent every summer at Camp Bellflower, a 100-year-old, very traditional and conservative sleep away camp for girls in the Kentucky Appalachians. Nothing ever changes at Camp Bellflower. But this year, something is different.
Maggie loves the Backstreet Boys, but while the other girls her age are mooning over the young male staffers, Maggie has no interest in them. But an innocent chance encounter with an older, female camp counselor, Erin, sends Maggie into a spiral of gut-twisting, heart-wrenching self-doubt. And even if Maggie can sort out who she is and what she wants before summer ends, it may be more than Erin — or Camp Bellflower — can accept.
The simple, clear lines and watercolour-esque illustrations make this deeply emotional story seem almost dreamlike, a fitting style for a memoir. The prose and dialogue are spare and there’s not a lot of introspection — just enough to give the reader a sense of what Maggie is wrestling with internally while she’s going through the typical high-school-age social struggles and drama.
The author has a light touch, and while there’s plenty of teen angst, it’s not overplayed. Romance and yearning is portrayed, accurately, as coming down to a single innocent touch, a glance, a gaze held a second or two longer than you expected. It’s deft and delicate, and a delight to read.
I also appreciated the many permutations of female relationships on display in this book beyond the romantic. Maggie doesn’t have a bestie, but she has one or two close friends she can confide in; and the cast is filled out with well-meaning counsellors giving unwanted advice, coaches encouraging her talent, and envious frenemies manipulating her raw emotions.
Crushes and first love can be tough enough to navigate, let alone when it’s forbidden by the rules of your family and society. I really enjoyed Maggie’s story, and I think any YA reader would, too.