Audrey reviews Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

honorgirl

Mild spoiler warnings–nothing you wouldn’t get from reading the jacket copy, though. Reading Honor Girl is painful in the way that reading your old diaries is painful. Not the “Wow, I was stupid-shallow” parts, but the moments of earnest hope where you can see the younger you before your first real, crushing heartbreak, before you knew what it was like to feel hollow inside because of another person.

Maggie’s 15, spending her summer in Kentucky as she always does, at the same camp her mother attended, participating in the same rituals and traditions. During the school year, she lives with her upper-crust family in Atlanta. She floats between these worlds, and her most solid anchor is her love for one of the Backstreet Boys.

This summer is different, though. This summer she’s finding her place, finally, on the shooting range. And this summer, there’s Erin. The shooting might be okay, but at this very Christian, very Southern camp at the beginning of the new millennium, the slow realization that she’s attracted to Erin–and that Erin returns the feeling–is very not okay.

Maggie’s not terribly uncomfortable with her feelings, but she’s deeply uncomfortable with other people’s reactions, especially when they seem to get Erin in trouble. Maggie’s choices during that summer make this book feel in part like an expiation, and the ending is quietly devastating. This is being touted as a book about a girl going to summer camp and discovering she’s a lesbian, but what she discovers about her character, and how that knowledge informs her life afterward, is crucial.

Having been one of those kids who got along better with adults (i.e., I found camp traumatizing in and of itself), I did a little looking around. Maggie Thrash considers that summer to have been an “idyllic bubble” and a quick Google search for Honor Girl turns up adjectives like “hilarious” and “heartwarming.” In the same interview linked above, Thrash notes that the memoir isn’t about being held down by her peers, but crushed by older people.

Because this is a graphic memoir, it’s pretty much a one-afternoon kind of deal. There are more memoirs coming out in this format now. This story is particularly suited to it. Thrash clearly remembers what it’s like to be 15. It’s exciting, terrifying, funny, boring, fleeting, excruciating, and brilliant. Sometimes within the space of a few minutes.

Two people read this in my house. My fiancee borrowed it from the library and read it, then told me I should. How was it? “It was okay. It was good. Quick. You’ll finish it in like an hour and a half,” she said. I finished it and was, as I phrased it earlier, quietly devastated. This is definitely one of those books that, once set free in the world, is going to mean different things to different people, regardless of what its creator/subject intended. Good on its own; excellent conversation starter. Great for book clubs (teens and adults). Book is currently cataloged as adult bio. I’m moving it to where the YA crowd will swarm.

Danika reviews 100 Crushes by Elisha Lim

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100 Crushes is a collection of excerpts from different pieces that Elisha Lim has done over the years, including Sissy, The Illustrated Gentleman, Queer Child in the Eighties, and 100 Butches. Most of these works focus on queer people of colour, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was such a celebration of qpoc lives. There are interviews and short bios of “butches”, “sissies” and “sissy inspirations”, all with evocative illustrations.

Because these are just excerpts, it did feel disjointed at times, but that is the only complaint that I have. Having just a taste of these makes me want to dive into Elisha Lim’s back list in full. I love the range of queer experiences given voice in this collection, and it made me think about all the ways that we interpret our own gender and sexuality. I wish I had prints of some of these pages to hang on my walls. For anyone looking for more diverse representations in comics/graphic novels & memoirs, I definitely recommend giving 100 Crushes a try.

Danika re-reviews Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home is one my favourite books, so I was happy for the chance to re-read it in one of my English classes this semester. It definitely, definitely stands up to a second reading. In fact, I plan on writing my final essay about it, because there’s just so much to it.

There’s the obvious interesting autobiography element, and the strength of the illustrations, and the parallel between Bechdel and her father, but I had forgotten that it’s also a deeply literary work.

If there’s anything I like more than lesbians or books, it’s lesbian books. And if there’s anything I like more than lesbian books, it’s books about lesbian books. Fun Home is the perfect mix of these interests. Bechdel’s parents as she was growing up were both English teachers, and books are a constant presence throughout the novel. She understands her family through comparing them to books and authors. She often has excerpts from books that take up a whole panel, and even the books in the background usually get a title and author.

Most of the references I didn’t fully understand, because I’m not particularly familiar with the Western canon. I’m sure, though, that Fun Home would be even richer if you are.

Bechdel’s coming out was also wrapped in books: she realized her lesbianism by stumbling across a description of a lesbian in a book, she devoured lesbian books in her coming out process, and she parallels her coming out with the Odyssey.

Fun Home also has an interesting, twisting narrative structure. We leap forward and backward in time, but it never feels forced.

All in all, I had remembered how enjoyable Fun Home was, but I don’t think I remembered how fascinating it is, and how much depth there is to it. I can’t wait to read Bechdel’s upcoming graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?