Children tend to get reduced to the simplest definitions: Girls like dresses and princesses and boys like trucks and sports. It doesn’t matter how true these things are or not — the pressure from parents and peers (and certainly, society) forces children into pretty narrow roles.
So what happens when you know early on you don’t fit into that?
Liz Prince reflects on growing up as a girl who always identified more with the boys in her sweetly hilarious graphic memoir Tomboy (Zest Books, 2014), taking down gender norms along the way and making her own, more interesting path.
It’s not necessarily a rare story: as a child, Prince shunned dresses and preferred The Real Ghostbusters to playing dress-up. But this caused problems on both sides — elementary school boys rejected girls on principle and Prince didn’t really relate to too many of the girls.
Along the way, Prince makes some friends (boys and girls!), joins Little League and Girl Scouts (she has range!), develops crushes on boys and has her heart-broken a few times. But through some kind and caring girls and women, Prince discovers zines and punk rock.
The book’s pace is episodic and heavy on playful anecdotes and asides about society and growing up, often addressing the reader directly. There are a few darker moments that deal with bullies and cruel friends, but the tone is light overall. Prince has an incredible ability to find honesty and humor in her own life and it shines through in the stories she’s telling.
Her loose, casual art has an airiness to it, like a cool friend telling a funny story in an effortless way. As deceptively simple as her style is, Prince is a master at conveying emotion, movement and places with a few lines. This book is full of life as she jumps from cartoonish sequences to silent, personal moments.
One of the most touching parts of Tomboy comes toward the end, where Prince reads Ariel Schrag’s Definition and says “For the first time I saw myself reflected in a book.” I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to imagine this book doing the same thing for some other girl. This may be Liz Prince’s specific story, but it’s one many of us can see ourselves in.
Copy of Tomboy provided by the publisher.