"Teens Are Fucking Evil"—Let This YA Novelist Explain

Maggie Thrash is writing a new type of story.

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As we embark on the new year, we're sharing a series of stories about the artists, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs and more who are poised to do big things in 2017.

Maggie Thrash is one of the hardest working people I know. On top of writing and illustrating for Rookie, she's published a graphic memoir (Honor Girl), released the first novel of an ongoing mystery series set in a high school (Strange Truth), and is the co-host of a podcast that's all about Dawson's Creek. The thread running through Thrash's many, many projects is steadfast devotion to her mission—that is, she wants to make YA literature more subversive, darker, and a little truer to the teen experience.

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With the second book of her Strange Truth series slated for release this year, it seemed the perfect time to chat with the writer and artist about her work and why, more than ever, YA is poised to make some much-needed changes.

"It's important to show teenagers solving problems on their own without the help of adults and confronting the darkness of life." –Maggie Thrash

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First off, why did you decide to write for a YA audience?

It wasn't really a decision. I'm pretty much still a teenager in my soul, so I just write what I know. I'm sure I'll write an adult book one day, if I ever grow up.

Even in 2017, what do you think YA is still missing?

A devious sense of humor is definitely missing. Irony and satire are in critical condition, especially in YA. No one can take a joke anymore—it's the one thing liberals and conservatives seem to have in common. Everyone is so serious, which I understand; it's a serious and scary time. But teens love twisted, subversive stuff. Most adults are too afraid to give it to them.

Thrash has many creative outlets, one of them being making music videos.

Are there any new stories that you're looking forward to telling this year and beyond?

I'd like to do something more experimental and abstract. Something that doesn't ask people to like it. I feel super-inspired by The OA. It's totally beautiful and odd. Artist Molly Soda is also a huge influence on me right now. I'm in love with her. She is too beautiful for this world. Her work challenges people to engage fiercely with their emotions, instead of ignoring them (I definitely have a tendency to pretend I have no feelings).

How is your work different from other books out there?

I never idealize teenagers or make them unrealistically heroic. Teens are fucking evil. It's what I love about them! They're at a crazy juncture in their development where they have the intelligence of adults, but little sense of their own mortality. It's what makes them so deliciously and frighteningly self-involved. My characters aren't like Harry Potter—you know, here's Voldemort the bad guy and Harry the good guy, and gee, I wonder if good will triumph over evil! I say that with total love, as I'm a Harry Potter junkie. But I think it's important for teens to see characters who are less morally black-and-white.

Learn more about Thrash's suspenseful novel, "We Know It Was You."

You'll be publishing the second installment of your Strange Truth series this year. Why do you think detective/thriller narratives are perfect for YA?

It's important to show teenagers solving problems on their own without the help of adults and confronting the darkness of life. Their comfy childhoods are over. They're facing the real world for the first time, which can involve pretty messed-up stuff.

What inspired you to start the Strange Truth series?

This series features my three favorite things to write about: the South, teen stereotypes (and subverting them), and illegal activity. I also love exploring how male-female friendships survive in a heteronormative society where there's so much pressure to be romantic.

How do your personal experiences play into your work?

My graphic memoir, Honor Girl, is about my experiences as a burgeoning gay teen at an all-girls summer camp. It's very tender and vulnerable, and I revealed things about myself that I'd been hiding for years. People assume that my mystery series, Strange Truth, is just kind of a trashy side project. But the characters I created for Strange Truth totally have my heart and soul, as well. I pour so much of myself into these books, even though they're fiction.

What's one thing you wish to accomplish in 2017?

I want to stop judging people by the number of followers they have on social media. It's such a toxic mindset, as if you don't exist unless you have 10k followers. I have 600 on Twitter, and I sometimes feel totally invisible. But this year I want to take pride in my outsider status instead of fighting so hard to get "in." No one ever truly feels "in." It's an illusion.

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