Today I’m excited to share my Q&A with Maggie Thrash, whose emotional graphic novel, Honor Girl (Candlewick Press, $19.99, 272 pages), chronicles a fateful summer when the author first fell in love while at an all-girls sleepaway camp in the South. Thrash, also a writer for Rookie Magazine, spoke with me about accepting and embracing her sexuality, her years at Hampshire College, sleepwalking, the mental demands of riflery, and recognizing that pivotal moment when you realize you’ve grown up.

What moved you to write Honor Girl at this point in your life?

I needed to say this before I could say anything else. This book is the Maggie Thrash starting point. So much about my life– the way I think, the way I deal with love– all traces back to how I handled this summer. It was the first time in my life that I was faced with real, intense, adult emotions. Before this summer, I was a kid, and afterwards I was not—and there was no going back.  

Why did you decide to write a graphic novel instead of a traditional book? Honor Girl focuses on a very specific period in your life – your discovery/acknowledgement of your sexuality, and your first love. Was it difficult reliving your adolescence?  Was this book your way of coming out to the world?

I think comics are the best medium for memoir because you can be up-front and objective about yourself while also being incredibly personal. It wasn’t very difficult for me to relieve this period, because in many ways I’m kind of stunted– I still feel fifteen years old. So it wasn’t a stretch for me to reach back and relive those feelings. And yes, this is definitely me coming out to the world. I’d always been very secretive about my relationships with women, because being secretive made life easier. But the world has changed a lot in the last fifteen years, and diversity is being celebrated now.  

Did you ever reconnect with Erin, or is she firmly in the past?

She’s read the book, and we’re going to have lunch soon…. I’m kind of terrified! It must be very strange to see yourself and your memories through some else’s eyes, and to have that version published for the world to see. But she has been immensely supportive and cool.

What happened afterwards? You attended Hampshire College, and as a fellow graduate of a Pioneer Valley school (Smith), I can easily imagine that Hampshire was a far cry from Bellflower and Atlanta. Did you experience any culture shock when you got to college? What were your first impressions? How did attending Hampshire, and spending your undergraduate years in such an environment, influence your work and life?

Yes, Hampshire College was a huge shock! There was a nudist, and a girl who made art exhibits out of garbage piles, and a guy who dressed like a pirate every single day. The place was teeming with gay people and nonconformists and a wide variety of weirdos. It’s funny, on the first day of orientation, I found this one Midwestern boy who was wearing “normal” clothes– like a Polo shirt and jeans– and I latched onto him and he became my best friend. We navigated all the craziness together. I have probably never been happier in my life as I was at Hampshire College. It is a strange, wonderful heaven.

Have you stayed in touch with any of the girls from Bellflower?

I purposefully avoided contacting anyone while I was writing the book. I wanted to stay true to my perspective and not feel beholden to other people’s memories. It’s wild how two people can remember one event so differently. The idea of having to serve multiple perspectives was too overwhelming. All the girls in the book have their own stories. What ended up happening to the character of “Bethany” is pretty crazy, for instance. It could be a whole book of its own. But I was just like, I gotta stay focused and tell my own story here.

As a writer for Rookie you know that many young girls read and look up to you. Did you feel any of that pressure while writing?

Rookie readers are very compassionate. They get that everyone is flawed. I am not a fantastic role model in Honor Girl. I let people push me around, and I didn’t have confidence in my feelings or my intuition. But it’s important for me to be real with girls and to tell them, “You’re gonna lose some battles in life. It happens. It doesn’t mean you’ll be a loser forever.”  

You’re pretty good with a gun, but you haven’t shot anything in over a decade. Why? Do you miss it? Could you talk about why you took up riflery in the first place? (You allude to riflery as a way to bond with your father.)

It’s pretty random how I took up shooting. Mostly I did it because it wasn’t a popular activity at the camp, so it was a great way to get away from everyone (at camp you’re constantly surrounded). I definitely didn’t expect to be such a prodigy. Riflery is an interesting sport, because all it takes to excel is concentration and confidence. It’s 100% mental. When I went back to camp the next summer, the summer after the one portrayed in the book, I was a different person. My confidence had faltered, and I lost my magic. Like most prodigies, I totally flamed out. I want to shoot soon just to see what happens, to see if lost magic can be recovered. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Do you still sleepwalk? If so, what do you do about it? If not, how did you stop?

I rarely sleep-walk anymore. I grew out of it I guess. But I have a new, equally disruptive sleep malfunction where I wake up in the middle of the night screaming my head off. Usually I’m screaming for my dad, like, “DAAAAAAAAAAD!” It’s probably a deeply ingrained thing for girls in this patriarchal society, to scream for their fathers to save them.

Did you really see Brigadoon after you left camp? It seemed an appropriate coda to Bellflower disappearing into the past, just like Brigadoon vanishes into the ether.

Oh yeah. Every year my mom and I saw a musical on the way home from camp.Brigadoon always stuck with me. Partly because I’m Scottish and because the title song is so beautiful. But I also love how Brigadoon represents how nothing lasts. All anyone wants is to be happy and for time to stop. Brigadoon captures those two impossible desires.    

What are you working on now?

I have something pretty different in store for next year. It is fiction, and non-graphic. It’s a teen mystery. I think it will be interesting for Honor Girl readers to read it and be like, wow, so this is what became of Maggie Thrash. She grew up to write books about teenagers murdering each other. Nice.

Honor Girl, by Maggie Thrash; Candlewick Press, $19.99, 272 pages, ages 14 and up.

Rookie: Yearbook Three, edited by Tavi Gevinson; Razorbill, $29.95, 358 pages, ages 12-18.

As an eleven year old with a penchant for dying her hair gray and defying wearing what can perhaps be described as granny attire, Tavi Gevinson launched her fashion blog StyleRookie in 2008.  Since then she has held a firm grip on the hearts and minds of her readership and has recently branched out from observing the catwalk by founding a new website where she explores, celebrates and commiserates all that goes into being an adolescent girl in contemporary society. Rookie: Yearbook Three is the latest installment in a trio of volumes showcasing the best and most powerful contributions to Gevinson’s latest online magazine

Rookie: Yearbook Three does resemble that high-school rite of passage, minus the stuffy leather hardcover and black and white pages. It’s folio size, and entries start with July 2013 through May 2014, with articles for each month corresponding to a given theme. (For example, October 2013’s topic was appropriately entitled “Haunted.”) Gevinson’s team includes dozens of energetic young writers, photographers and illustrators who provided thoughtful, witty and nuanced work. Look for some star-studded names in the contributor list, like the Fanning sisters, Lorde, and Shailene Woodley.

There’s nothing here that speaks down or demeans readers, nor is there any duplicity sometimes found in more mainstream magazines aimed at the 13-18 female demographic, where an uplifting story on body acceptance might be followed by a photo spread showcasing girls as vapid eye-candy.  The book and website’s eponymous titles refer to what Gevinson believes is a shared experience among her audience and her staff; everyone is figuring out life as they go along, but members of this particular community navigate the twisted road to adulthood together, possibly arriving with a greater arsenal of self-acceptance and self-confidence than generations prior.

Rookie: Yearbook Three would make an excellent and most appreciated gift to any teenage girl. Perhaps parents would do themselves a favor and read it too – at an age where most children would rather die than sit down and talk with adults, this book offers insight on today’s youth, and it’s pretty inspiring. If Gevinson has her way, there’s likely a Book Four in the works to round out the entire high school experience, and we’re eager to see what’s next.