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Honor Girl

honor girl coverHonor Girl, Maggie Thrash
Candlewick Press, September 2015
Reviewed from final copy

I was distracted while reading Honor Girl. The first two chapters orient the reader in the early days of the new millennium; there’s a list of celebrity crushes including Leonardo DiCaprio, Usher, and Justin Timberlake, our narrator is reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and later, Goblet of Fire), and her favorite band is The Backstreet Boys. I spent most of the book trying to figure out if I’m older or younger than Maggie Thrash (as it turns out, I’m older by just six months). Near the end of the book a date is shown which confirmed my suspicion, but I had to read it a second time just so that I could experience the book without my self-centered curiosity getting in the way.

I’m mentioning this at the top of the review because those little references tethered me to the material in good and bad ways. I’ve never attended an all-girls school or camp, nor have I ever gone to a sleepaway camp. But I remember where and who I was in the summer of 2000. Being able to contextualize Maggie Thrash’s memoir through my understanding of myself at that time allowed me to fully appreciate how she captures a few months in her life when everything and nothing changed. It’s beautiful and nostalgic.

In our first round of Pyrite voting a couple of you gave Honor Girl your first place slot. With three stars and solid content to back it up, it’s not a longshot for the RealPrintz but there are a few things that will probably keep this one from the winner’s circle.

Thrash’s memoir is unique because it’s a traditional story of first love, layered with a coming out narrative, and complicated by the object of Maggie’s* first love, a nineteen-year-old counselor at her summer camp. The act of creating this work must have been therapeutic for Thrash. This is clear from the way the main story is framed by a vignette of Maggie reuniting with Erin for one afternoon two years later. Thrash shows how some disappointments in our lives will change us forever but no matter how much we may wish to, we can’t go back or fix them. While that summer was pivotal for Maggie in understanding her sexuality, the memory of it will always contain the melancholy that’s specific to a teenager’s first love.

Although is structured and well-told, design and illustration are this book’s main weaknesses, and it unfortunately affects the execution of character development and theme. With regard to Printz criteria, design and illustration need to be striking as individual elements as well as a part of the larger work. Honor Girl works as a memoir told through sequential art but it’s not transcendent like last year’s This One Summer, in which the art deepened the emotional impact of the story. The use of watercolor pencils and pen give Honor Girl a juvenile look that’s appropriate to the theme and tone of the memoir but there’s little character development or advancement of theme through the images. The characters are all nearly identical making it hard to differentiate them. It’s also hard to read any emotion in their faces. Relationships are so integral to this memoir and the art couldn’t support that theme.

It will certainly be interesting to see subsequent work from Maggie Thrash. She has the potential to be an author we revisit here on the Printz blog because without a doubt, she knows how to channel her former teen self through narrative. This year, however, I would be surprised to see Honor Girl with a RealPrintz.

*For clarity, I’ll refer to Maggie Thrash as “Maggie” when talking about her as a character in the memoir and “Thrash” when discussing her as author.

About Joy Piedmont

Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.

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