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Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

With London Pride being yesterday I thought that time was right to finally review this Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash.

Synopsis

Maggie is fifteen and has basically spent every summer of her life at one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, where her days are full of a pleasant, peaceful sort of nothing. Until one confounding moment of innocent physical contact catapults her into gut-twisting love with Erin, an older, wiser, and surprisingly – at least to Maggie – female counselor. When it seems as if Erin might feel the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for either Maggie or Camp Bellflower to endure, let alone understand.

Author

Maggie Thrash is a staff writer for Rookie, a popular online magazine for teenage girls. This is her first book. She lives in Delaware.

Honor Girl was first published in 2015 and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist.

What I thought

This is a non-fiction book, based on true events and is presented as a graphic novel. It is about a girl discovering her sexual attraction to another, older girl at summer camp.

I thought it was excellently done and a great use of the genre. The book is illustrated in watercolour pencil and pen images which were finished digitally and even the font was designed by Maggie. The art is fairly simplistic but there’s something powerful in its simplicity especially in the close up images like below.

I’ve seen some criticism of the ‘ending’ but I really liked the fact that is was realistic. Nothing against fictional coming out stories but the happily ever after they often portray does not often represent the stories of many teens in this situation. I also thought Maggie’s confliction was represented powerfully.

I read some of the one star reviews of this book on goodreads and whilst I agree with some of the concerns highlighted over this being about a relationship between an older 19 year old camp counselor and a 15 year old girl I can’t help but wonder how vehemently those concerns would be expressed if the counselor had been male and the 15 year old female. In fact I’ve seen many older boy/younger girl stories like this fictionally and in real life that are seen as ‘part of the norm’.

This is set in a summer camp in southern America a ‘few’ years ago so usual camp activities take place including shooting guns and the safety around such activities is more lax than I think it would be now. This was again a criticism I read from others, though I think we need to take care to read stories in their context not just applying today’s standards.

I liked the use of humour and ‘silliness’ when describing the typical teen girl behaviour such as lusting over the backstreet boys, being mean to each other and scaring the younger girls. As such I do think that teenagers will relate to the story whatever their sexual orientation. It’s about growing up, discovering yourself, falling in love and heartbreak. What is more universal?

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher Walker for the purposes of an honest review. I read it a year ago so apologies for the delay in reviewing.

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…Preceded by Chaos Vol -1 by M. Wheeler (Writer) and B. Bicknell (Illustrator) – Blog Tour Book Review

Goodreads Link

Summary:

…Preceded by Chaos is a graphic illustrated series, charting the dramatic past, present and future of a young emergency room doctor, as the stress of saving lives threatens to overwhelm him. Mitchell Weaver is a troubled young Emergency Medicine doctor, orbiting a world of high-stress, intense pressure. It’s a distinguished profession with the burden of a variety of particularly disturbing personal demons that he must battle in order to maintain the façade of sanity and control. The third instalment of the series, Volume -1, takes place before the first book in the series, Volume 0, before Mitchell’s attempt at sobriety and self-awareness. During this chapter Mitchell travels to Spain in an attempt to find a part of himself that his been lost. But ultimately, Mitchell’s trip to Barcelona may be an escape more than journey.

Author:

M. Wheeler has held an eclectic array of jobs – including working as a studio engineer and a teacher — before he entered medical school in his thirties. During his residency in New York City, he wrote the first three books which would eventually become the …Preceded by Chaos series. Wheeler travels extensively for his job but currently calls Miami, Florida, home.

Website: http://precededbychaos.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/precededbychaos

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PrecededByChaos/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/precededbychaos/

What I Thought:

I started this book thinking it was going to be a graphic novel. But as it says above it’s a graphic illustrated series so there are some illustrations but also lots of pages of text only. This is actually the third book in the series but is a prequel (I haven’t read the others).

I was drawn to the story of an emergency medicine doctor battling his demons and the cover illustration really demonstrates that concept. The sections that take place within the hospital were the ones I most enjoyed and it was during those that you felt the pressure on Mitchell. There are some quite verbally (and illustratingly) graphic depictions of drug use. The scene with the case of a young boy is realistic and upsetting and the language used definitely reflects the author’s experience as a medic.

I am assuming that the series title is based on the following quote: “All great changes are preceded by chaos” by Deepak Chopra,

and the summary for the next books describes how Mitchell aims to change and battle the addiction and demons that are affecting his life. He is left with a summons that means change is inevitable and this seems to link to an enigmatic case that is alluded to but not discussed in this volume.

The preceding chaos is definitely evident here and I have to admit to being a little confused about what was happening. The majority of the story takes place in Barcelona where he goes on holiday with a mate from work and lots of alcohol is consumed. The foreword is by a fictionalised character from the story who I’m not entirely sure actually exists or if we have a Jekyll and Hyde situation going on. The red eyed bull demon again could be a metaphorical representation of turmoil or a real inner demon.

Unfortunately I wasn’t drawn to Mitchell as a character and I didn’t feel women in the story were treated all that well. There was was a scene that featured a prostitute and a very unusual shopping list that I think I’d prefer to forget – so I’m not convinced I would read on to find out what happens but hopefully the character manages to turn his life around. Despite his irresponsible actions there is clear evidence that he cares for the patients and has become burdened by past events. I think the concept of mental health could be considered more explicitly. I think in this case it was more that my expectations of the story didn’t match what I got.

I believe the print copy I received was the final version and there were a few errors still present, and some of the text on the illustrations was blurred and difficult to read. I wonder if the kindle option makes this easier with the ability to zoom in.

The illustrations were all grayscale except for a couple that included a dash of red. Oddly one chapter was entirely presented in captioned illustration and I do think that the material would lend itself to being presented in this way as a graphic novel.

Do check out the other stops on the tour to see what everyone else thought.

I received my copy from Faye Rogers and the publishers for the purposes of honest review.

Making the Invisible Visible – Mental Health in Comic Form – Book Reviews 


Today I want to talk about three cartoon/graphic books that each explore the experience of mental health. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot and Night Shift by Debi Gliori. 

The first two books don’t only share bright yellow covers but have a similar style with rather unusual looking characters. The images in Hyperbole and a Half are in colour whereas It’s All Absolutely Fine contains line drawings in black on white. 

I’m pretty sure you will have seen Allie Brian’s images shared as memes on social media. Two chapters within the book focus explicitly on Depression although other topics such as Dogs are also covered. This is a funny book with a good balance between the images and textual story linking them. 


It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot (RubyETC) I only know about because of YALC this year and I picked up a signed copy. Every now and then there is some prose discussing the images in that section with the images then left to their own devices. This is much more ‘individual comic image’ style. I found her prose particularly insightful though. 


Night Shift is different to the other two being more poetic in nature. It’s a beautiful midnight blue clothbound hardback and the images inside are muted greyscale with the very occasional flash of colour. 


It is a story of depressive episodes that uses the metaphor of a dragon as a formidable opponent. Debi both wrote and illustrated the book and in one picture even talks about the difficulty of using words to describe the experience. Her combined use of words and images are a powerful exploration of thoughts and feelings as well as reminder of how episodes might start. 


I’m sure I’ve mentioned my own experiences with depression before. These three books each spoke to my experience. Not perhaps all of it because we are each different but aspects definitely helped me to feel less alone and that there are others that get it. 

Each book also includes little hints at hope and recovery/living with.

Two are more comic comics, one is more melancholic but beautifully illustrated and perhaps slightly more real. But also maybe one to read when you are feeling stronger and ready to fight your dragons. 

Please note I was provided with a copy of Night Shift from the publisher Hot Key but all opinions are my own. 

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