Camp Bellflower for Girls is the setting of a true story of a pivotal summer Rookie magazine writer Maggie Thrash spent at the turn of the millennium when boy bands were popular and Harry Potter was a new phenomenon.
Maggie is 15 this particular summer and while she has attended the Christian camp in Kentucky before, this summer is different mostly because of an older counselor named Erin and the questions about her identity she is confronted with when she starts to develop feelings for her.
While she pines over Erin, the quintessential cool counselor, and overthinks all of their frequent interactions (does the hemp necklace Erin gave her mean something or is it just her being nice?), Maggie also contends with the camp rules that forbid same-sex relationships (not to mention counselor-camper ones) and a rivalry with another camper at the gun range, all while aiming for the ultimate camp achievement of being named honor girl.
Like Ira Glass in his quote in the book’s promotional materials points out, I am not a teenager girl or a lesbian but had little trouble reading through this 267-page hardback book in one sitting because I simply did not want to put it down. It helps that the illustrations are both cleverly executed, simple without being minimalistic and easy to follow, which is helpful for those of us who aren’t well versed in the graphic novel scene.
I also love that it’s a story about girls at camp – a viewpoint sometimes missing in more male-centric summer camp pop culture – how they interact, what they struggle with both internally and externally and the awkward uncomfortableness of teenage love, particularly in a time when same-sex relationships were far less accepted than they are now.
Going in, I thought the camp – because it’s described as a Christian camp in the South – might be the subject of derision or harsh critique but Thrash lets the experience with all of its complexities and conflicts be what it was without discounting the setting, the well-meaning people in charge, the hokey traditions or the politics behind the NRA expert certification she was trying to attain at the rifle range.
What Honor Girl does do is delightfully capture summer camp for what it is – a magical, temporary place where challenges are overcome, lifelong friendships are forged and self-discovery is inevitable.