As a teen, Maggie Thrash spent her summers at an all-girls camp in Appalachia. She was sent because her mom went at her age, and like most elements of the South, tradition trumps everything. When Maggie was 15, her life changed significantly while at Camp Bellflower, as she fell for an older counselor named Erin. It was the first time Maggie realized that she might not be like her peers, who spent their summers lusting over the guys that work at the camp, and the boys their age that make the annual visit from across the lake.
Honor Girl is Maggie’s new graphic memoir, telling the story of that fateful summer with the details of her self-realization and romance. Relatable, honest and well-drawn, the book follows Maggie’s internal thoughts and feelings about the world she inhabits, surrounded by nature and other teen girls who participate in gossip and boy band-themed talent shows, as well as the camp’s customary Civil War re-enactments and Christian song singing.
photo by Nico Carver via Maggie Thrash
We spoke with Maggie about writing Honor Girl and how her experiences helped to shape her as an adult who now writes for a popular site for teen girls.
AfterEllen.com: I loved this book, and read it all in one day. Have most people been telling you something similar?
Maggie Thrash: Yeah, a lot of people have been saying they just shoot straight through, which I really love. I’m happy that I made something that makes you want to keep turning the page. I actually feel like “Ah, yay! My plan worked.” It was sort of manipulative and always on my mind how to get them—I want to put the action in the lower right hand corner so they’ll have to turn the page to see how it resolves.
AE: I imagine this story has been kicking around in your head since it happened, so most of your life. How did you finally come to decide to put it down in the form of a book?
MT: I see my life really visually, and so when I look back, I can just see this line in the 15 years that came before. Like this is the moment where I stopped being a child, and I think it’s pretty timely and ironic because I just turned 30 so this happened at exactly the center point of my life so far, and it was just time. Especially turning 30—I’m finally an adult now, or at least I should be an adult now—I need to deal with it. It can’t just keep lurking in my past. It’s this sort of specter that changed me so deeply and yet I never talked about it, even to the people that know me best—I hardly ever talked about camp. So it just seemed really important to finally deal with it.
AE: As much as I know that I would have hated some of the things you describe having to do at the camp, I’m also kind of jealous of that experience. Do you remember them all as positive now when you look back at camp memories?
MT: I do get sort of a visceral feeling when I think about camp that is positive, which mostly had to do with remembering how it felt to be in nature all day and remembering feeling the breeze and the sky over my head as a room and the only walls being trees and just missing that so much. But so much of camp I spent being bored, and it’s very easy to romanticize boredom later. A lot of times I’d think “Oh, I was so happy!” But if I really examine the memories, it was no, I was just bored. Bored in nature, kind of relaxing. Especially today, kids are under so much pressure I think being bored can be a wonderful thing. We’re filled with way too much stimuli. I hated those Civil War reenactments, screaming grey and blue. I hated that. But there’s a certain comfort of that routine that I miss now that I’m an adult, like “You have to do all this stuff, you have no choice!” and that’s annoying, but it’s also this incredible freedom and liberation in “I have no choice! I just have to do this weird stuff.” Once you’re an adult, knowing that your happiness is in your own hands can be incredibly overwhelming. I miss being a teenager and sort of that feeling of like, “Well, I can’t do anything about my life right now so it doesn’t really matter if I’m happy, because I’ll be happy when I’m an adult and I’m in charge.” Now it’s like, the time has come—I’m in charge! When is my happiness coming? [laughs]