Honor Girl tells the story of Maggie Thrash’s (the author) time as a fifteen year old camper at an all-girls christian camp in the South, the year that she fell in love with a counselor and began to explore and discover her sexuality. Young Maggie gets a head-lice check from 19 year old counselor Erin, and in one moment of physical contact, she knows that her feelings are bigger and stronger than herself. As she attempts to process and understand her feelings, she finds solace in the act of shooting a rifle, but a secret is hard to keep at a camp full of young girls who treat each other more like sisters than camp-mates.
The story is at once beautiful, funny, and heart-wrenching. Hidden away at camp seems like the perfect time for self reflection, until you can’t escape the very thing you’re supposed to be reflecting on. As Maggie attempts to hide from her thoughts and feelings through rifle shooting, I recognize a part of myself in her. Though I don’t shoot, I am not unfamiliar with the act of occupying my mind in attempt to compartmentalize my thoughts in order to get through the day when something larger than myself is happening.
Something huge has changed in Maggie, and the world doesn’t seem to understand. It just keeps moving, and the people in it move on as though everything is the same, but for Maggie, nothing is the same. We’ve all been there, haven’t we, in some way or another? It’s the moment you fully comprehend human fragility and mortality, or, like Maggie, you come to the realization that your identity isn’t what everyone assumed it was, and it takes every ounce of strength you have to keep it inside of you to wrestle with and conquer before you begin to tell the world all about what you’ve just learned. Then, when it finally escapes, you are left vulnerable to your recipients’ reactions.
This is why we get upset when people don’t do with our possessions what we want them to, right? Like, when someone asks you for a piece of paper and you think it’s because they have something important to write down, so you offer it to them. But then, you watch them crumple it up and dunk it in the trash as though it were a basketball. Are you furious? Sure! That’s not what was supposed to happen to the paper that was once yours. And so it is with out thoughts and feelings, and ourselves. We cannot take it back if someone treats it different than we want or expect, so the paper is a test that we hope they don’t fail. Otherwise, what will they do when we hand them our hearts? Will they treasure it, or will they dunk it?
Thrash, M. (2015). Honor girl. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.