Tomboy is a charming YA graphic memoir that deals with issues related to bullying and conformity, especially in relation to children who don’t conform to traditional gender roles. Liz Prince writes about her life as a girl who doesn’t identify with anything “girly”. Stuck somewhere in “the middle,” Tomboy follows Prince through her formative years on the path toward self-discovery and acceptance. Even at the age of four, the thought of wearing dresses made Prince cry. Her parents embraced Prince’s choice to wear the clothing she wanted, like her baseball hat and favorite hand-me-down blazer, though her preferences weren’t as universally accepted by the outside world. For example, when Prince joins the Little League she is relegated to the outfield.
These examples offer a glimpse into a young person’s struggle to find an identity that aligns with who they truly are. Early in the text Prince offers the dictionary’s definition of a tomboy as: “ a girl with boyish behavior,” though she is quick to identify how subjective this is. She says: “Some people think that any girl who is athletic is a Tomboy. What about girls with short haircuts? Or any girl who prefers to wear jeans. Or girls who work in construction? Obviously this subject matter makes a lot of assumptions about gender…”
These assumptions are at the forefront of Prince’s graphic novel, which illustrates the issues behind gender stereotypes and identity conflicts through compassionate storytelling and clean, black and white graphics.
Prince recounts her young adulthood with humor, although some of Tomboy drifts into darker territory. As a girl who didn’t fit into the sugar-and-spice mold, she was called a lesbian before she knew what the term meant (and even though it wasn’t accurate). As her gender and sexuality are being called into question, Prince showcases how difficult the issue of identity is when paired with sexuality. Though it isn’t overt, it is a nice platform for the discussion of gender and gender equality, and how any gap in our public and private identities, especially when difficult to digest visually or behaviorally, can create intense pressure. Prince’s memoir shows how she internalized the message that she wouldn’t be accepted as-is, and fought against this conflict to stay true to herself. Her journey is depicted with honesty and compassion, though at times this honesty means reflecting on her youth with anger and defiance. Growing up isn’t easy, and Liz Prince shows us in Tomboy that her experience has created a lens with which to view behavior and gender in a genuine way.
Publisher: Zest Books
Pub date: September 2014
Content contributed by Kelly Garrett