Literary Guide for Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl
Honor Girl, the debut book by graphic novelist Maggie Thrash, is part memoir, part coming-of-age story, and part critical analysis of the discovery of sexuality. This young adult story (without a doubt written for teen audiences) is set at an all-girls summer camp in the south, and follows its author through a summer of confusing emotions, unexpected challenges, alongside a slew of heteronormative, gender-based assumptions.
Maggie has attended a very traditional sleepaway camp for nearly every summer of her life. It’s so traditional, in fact, that campers wear uniforms, sleep in true canvas tents, and can only arrive at camp via barge. It almost goes without saying that Maggie’s fellow campers are overwhelmingly white and Christian, and are portrayed as epitomizing what it means to be a budding southern belle. Vanity reigns supreme, trends are set through creative use of barrettes and non-camp-issue socks, and rumors of crushes on the few males to set foot on camp grounds run rampant.
Within this microcosm of southern culture, Maggie discovers that she has fallen in love for the first time. It comes as a surprise and catches her off guard – not only because it’s the first time she has ever experienced such feelings, but because the person for whom she falls madly and deeply is Erin, a female counselor a few years her senior.
Readers follow Maggie through a summer of torturous teenage love, made all the more difficult by the endless assumptions made about her identity and the taboo nature of her feelings – not only is heterosexuality very much the expected norm, but the age difference between Maggie and Erin is enough to turn heads on its own.
Readers follow Maggie through the emotional torture that is the suppression of self. As she questions and hides her own feelings (largely as a result of the context in which she feels them), Maggie illuminates the major issues that heteronormative culture can present. In a world where everyone assumes that she is not only incredibly feminine but also straight, it’s unclear where a Maggie-shaped hole exists. The way in which Maggie and Erin’s relationship is treated when discovered by camp staff further illustrates the dismissive nature with which homosexuality is treated within such a culture.
The story is book-ended by Maggie’s one post-camp meeting with Erin. Taking place years later when both are college students, the encounter speaks volumes to the importance of and, simultaneously, fleeting nature of teenage love. It’s clear that both characters are unsure of how to deal with their past once time and space have come between them, and readers are left to wonder whether their awkwardness is the result of change alone or the uncomfortable circumstances under which their relationship ended.
Honor Girl is an important book for teens – the story is compelling on its own, and when examined closely, speaks volumes to the impact that societal norms related to gender and sexuality can have on youth. By utilizing critical thinking questions and extension activities detailed in our literary guide, families can explore Maggie’s experiences together and can learn about the importance of empathy, understanding, and not making assumptions.
- Download Literary Guide for Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl