Page 45 Review by Stephen
What a price! Quick, before they change their minds!
"What was I doing before? Was I just... floating along? Maybe I was better off that way. Because what's ironic is that being in love doesn't actually make you happy. It makes it impossible to be happy. You're carrying this desire now. Maybe if you knew where it came from, you could put it back. But you don't."
Maggie is only fifteen and she's just fallen in love for the first time. With a woman. With a summer camp counsellor.
Maggie's stomach is churning and she hasn't the first clue what to do about any of it. She can't get Erin or her feelings towards her out of her head and she's stuck there for the summer. What if any of any of her friends find out? What if any of the counsellors find out? What if Erin finds out? What on earth is she supposed to do with all this?
Oh, the space and the light!
I knew this was graphic memoir was going to be a pleasure to read as soon as I opened it and the colours flooded out. But, being set in a remote, American summer camp for girls, I had no idea it would tick so many recognition boxes.
I'd praise Thrash's memory - her ability to put herself back in her head aged fifteen - but my own memory's appalling yet I remember every little bit of falling in love for the first time when my nascent self-awareness was too new to comprehend or cope. It's not something you forget.
Still, there were a lot of surprises and this may not come with the conclusion you expect.
Thrash goes to great pains to emphasise right from the beginning how traditional this particular summer camp was. Unchanged since 1922, "There were mandatory Civil War re-enactments every morning. It was literally the blues screaming "blue" and the greys screaming "grey" for twenty minutes." Grim. There's also flag-raising and flag-lowering at morning and night, and singing lots of lovely Christian songs to each other.
Being a good little girl, Maggie had a pillow with all her merit patches sewn on; being a somnambulist, she also had a Somnambu-leash which she was supposed to attach to her ankle every evening. I don't think it counts as a spoiler to tell you she doesn't - not every evening - and it's worth bearing that in mind later on.
There were uniforms for uniformity ("I was used to environments where it was important for everyone to be the same") and zero diversity bar one blonde Jewish girl so seemed to set each year's fashion trends. Oh, and then there was the whole Honor Girl system.
"On the first night, we always serenaded the Honor Girl, a 16-year-old camper appointed the previous summer... Everyone would light a candle, and at the end of the song, we'd each touch our flame to hers. It was meant to be symbolic - the Honor Girl imbuing us with her perfect spirit."
Are you getting a sense that this might be one of the least hospitable environments for anyone suddenly stumbling upon the notion that they might be gay? Add in a mass of insecure teenage peers and being trapped there with them morning, noon and indeed overnight... There were a couple of girls the previous year about whom rumours swirled and they were ostracised all season long.
As I say, I think this is going to surprise you, and it's got 270 pages in which to do so.
I've seen this sort of stripped-down style done so badly, so blandly - most recently in a reasonably high profile Young Adult graphic novel I decided didn't merit a review - but this is full of nuance and character and great body language. It's amazing what you can do with a few simple lines as long as they're placed just-so. The expressions often contradict what's expressed like tells at a poker game. It falls under the umbrella of minimum fuss for maximum empathy, and the colours ensure it's certainly no mope-fest.
There are great many giggles to boot. I loved the old camp commandant - sorry, director - popping out on the odd occasion to wave a canoe paddle furiously and bellow prohibitions before collapsing, pooped out on the deck.
The storytelling is crystal clear with plenty of variety - another of the problems I had with that YA graphic novel was it was as so repetitious, so deathly dull, like someone telling you a story with "And then he did this and then she did that and then he did this and we didn't" - opening up at exactly the right moments with landscapes to let you linger and ponder like Maggie herself.
As the memoir kicks off and concludes she's had two years to do precisely that.