Zest, $15.99 trade, ISBN-10 1936976552, September 2014
Growing up, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing Pretty Pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn’t exactly one of the guys either, as she quickly learned when her Little League baseball coach exiled her to the outfield instead of letting her take the pitcher’s mound. Liz was somewhere in the middle, and Tomboy is the story of her struggle to find the place where she belonged. Tomboy is a graphic novel about refusing gender boundaries, yet unwittingly embracing gender stereotypes at the same time, and realizing later in life that you can be just as much of a girl in jeans and a T-shirt as you can in a pink tutu. A memoir told anecdotally, Tomboy follows author and zine artist Liz Prince through her early childhood into adulthood and explores her ever-evolving struggles and wishes regarding what it means to “be a girl.” From staunchly refuting anything she perceived as being “girly” to the point of misogyny, to discovering through the punk community that your identity is whatever you make of it, regardless of your gender, Tomboy is as much humorous and honest as it is at points uncomfortable and heartbreaking.
The art’s nothing special and the text spacing can get frustrating at times, but Prince’s memoir is nonetheless refreshing and relatable. Although set around twenty years ago, today’s gender role conversation is, if anything, more confusing than ever. On one hand, you have the continuing push toward the all-pink, all-glitter girl and the blue and/or camo but nothing shiny boy. On the other, the conversation about gender as spectrum instead of binary continues to grow. Imagine going through adolescence in the middle of all those contradicting messages. Prince’s experience is far from atypical.
While limited to one person’s life on one point of the gender spectrum, Tomboy is one of those stories that can stand in for various outsider perspectives. When you don’t fit within the acceptable parameters of society–parameters that narrow to an infinitesimal gap during middle and high school–the issues you face tend to fall into the same categories. It’s not why the bullies pick on you, it’s that they do pick on you. It’s not why you don’t fit in, it’s that you don’t fit in. Prince’s story may resonate with other “tomboys,” but kids struggling with body image, gender and sexuality questions, a different socioeconomic background from their peers, or a host of other perceived abnormalities could benefit from her experiences.
Recommend to: “Real life” fiction fans, graphic memoir fans
To buy or not to buy: A solid addition for YA collections, but be aware it does contain strong language.