I’m going to be honest – before reading Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, I had never heard the word ‘graphic memoir’ before. I’ve read my fair share of graphic novels – both American comic books and Japanese manga – but neither of those prepared me for the visual and narrative style of Thrash’s debut book.

When it comes to reviewing graphic novels/books of any form, it’s important to talk about the art style as much as the story itself. The pictures and scene flow plays as much, or perhaps an even greater part, than the narrative. Honor Girl is a curious book – it has neither the hyper-realism that’s so distinctive of American comics, nor the sharp lines and contrasting black-and-white dichotomy of manga; instead, the visual style is simple and almost childlike. The art-style of colored pencils with water-color backgrounds is evocative of a middle-grade or high-school art project, and perfectly marries with the young teenage narrator.

The character design is minimalist, the scene flow relatively natural with a few full-page spreads to show the scale of Camp Bellflower, where the majority of the memoir takes place. Unfortunately the vague character outlines make it difficult to keep track of many of the side characters, as the difference between the girls is mainly determined by hair color and style – after a little while it becomes hard to remember them all.

At its core, Honor Girl is a heartbreaking story of Maggie Thrash’s own journey through self-discovery and the realization of her lesbianism. At times the book is heartwarming and endearing, championing friendship and the importance of acceptance; at others it’s a scathing indictment of homophobic bias and prejudice. Interspersed is some rather dry humor that perfectly delivers an amusing laugh right when it’s most needed.

I read this book in a day, mostly because it’s simply so easy to read. There is an appeal about graphic novels that’s hard to deny – it often feels like we have a stronger bond with our character because, at the end of the day, humans are visual creatures. Despite some shaky perspective work, the graphical style works well with our main character’s age and personal journey.

There are some cute anachronisms too – despite being set in the year 2000, the characters are seen reading Harry Potter novels that wouldn’t be released for many years after; and the references to the Backstreet Boys are perfectly on-point. It all ties back together to deliver a very bittersweet ending, proving that this is, at the heart of it, a memoir – and that not all memories are happy ones.

The Good

A fun, quirky graphic memoir that is instantly approachable and very enjoyable to read.

The Bad

Some shaky perspectives and over-minimalistic character designs that can make it hard to distinguish some of the minor characters.

The Verdict

A heartbreaking memoir interspersed with brief moments of aching sincerity and dry humor. Honor Girl paints a simple, but agonizingly real story about a young girl’s rocky journey of sexual self-discovery.

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