A Graphic Memoir
As anyone who knows me can attest, I am not the most feminine of women. I struggle to care about a lot of traditionally girly things and have always had more male friends than female. When you’re more into videogames and sports, that’s just kind of the way it goes. It is however a quality that honestly has caused a fair amount of consternation for me, particularly when I was growing up. Which is part of why I appreciate Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince so much. Tomboy is kind of the classic young adult, finding yourself and your way in the world story with an interesting look at gender roles and their effect on people who don’t fit neatly into a category. The story was both written and illustrated by Liz Prince and published in 2014 by an indie publisher, Zest Books. If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong (probably like 99.9% of teenagers), Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir will take you back to those days.
The story of Tomboy is a fairly common one: a young person trying to find a way to fit in with her peers and yet accept that she doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical norms. For Liz Prince, that meant growing up as a less than feminine girl. Since she was small, she rebelled against anything she considered “girly.” So no dresses, no pink, wanting to play sports instead of playing dress up. So exactly like the title of the book, Liz was a tomboy. The story follows her early life as a young girl, through the struggle of her teen years as she figures out exactly what it means to be a girl and yet still be herself.
As I said earlier, this book spoke to me on a lot of levels. I was never particularly sporty but I always had significantly more male friends than female because I just never had much interest in stereotypical girly things. I hated the color pink (my brother told me I couldn’t like blue because I was a girl and because I bring stubborn to all new levels, I still have a violent hatred of the color). I didn’t hate dresses quite as violently as Liz in Tomboy but I was rarely seen in anything but jeans and a t-shirt. What I appreciate about Tomboy is the understanding of how that failure to fit in can make you feel like a failure in general. Hell, I still worry about it at times and I’m almost thirty now. Prince writes with a humorous yet understanding view of human nature and that universal struggle to fit in. She didn’t live a crazy life and frankly the book would be boring without that humor and insight. It still might not appeal to all who want an action packed story. But it’s hard not to feel intense empathy for someone struggling to figure out where they fit in and striking out as often as not. I particularly liked that Prince wasn’t just pointing out how the girls didn’t accept her for being not girly enough. It’s being stuck in that middle ground where you’re not girly enough for the girls but too much of a girl for the boys and trying to find your way through that.
The art of Tomboy is distinctly simplistic and cartoony but it actually suits the story better than a more realistic style would. That cartoon style lends both an air of informality and humor that suits Prince’s dry, self-deprecating humor. The entire story is done in simple line drawings with no coloring and has the air of a longer web comic. It’s simple but well done and I liked that about it.
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir is one of those stories that I can’t really recommend to everyone. It’s more a nostalgic study of people and a look back at a time in one’s life that was difficult but important rather than an action packed adventure story. At almost three hundred pages, it isn’t a super short read but it has enough understanding of human nature and humor in terms of poking fun at that to be a compelling read. If you ever struggled with not fitting in or with gender roles that didn’t seem to suit you, Tomboy is well worth your time.