What’s it like growing up as a tomboy? Most will never know, many will be unsympathetic to those who identify as a tomboy, and those who do identify as one it will often be a struggle to maintain an identity in the face of gender stereotypes that some people don’t even know they’re perpetrating. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince is a graphic memoir that pieces together her childhood as she grew up with little interest in what was (and is still) seen as girlish things and activities.
Okay, it’s a graphic novel that happens to be a memoir, so its 250 pages may be a little inaccessible to some, but Liz’s style isn’t painfully complex. Her art is fluid and she draws panels that are detailed, but not overly cluttered. She manages to fit in some amazing jokes and observations over the course of the book, either directly through art or observational moments in dialogue and narration.
I’d like to think that because of the above, so long as you have a reasonably open mind to begin with, that you can pick up Tomboy and easily get a flavour of what it’s like to grow up as one. Living under similar circumstances and with familiar feelings for most of my life, I found much to identify with in Liz’s memoir. What she writes and draws is beautifully and horrifyingly genuine at the same time.
The horrifying aspects of what Liz recalls are perhaps the moments when you’ll want to stop reading the most. It’s quite disheartening when you read about the myriad of ways she was subjected to prejudice and abuse, but it’s heartening how Liz is able to turn much of it on its head.
One of the most brilliant aspects of Tomboy is not just how it chronicle’s Liz’s childhood and teen years, but the way it investigates and tears apart assumptions made by many of the sides in the gender debate. It really questions what it is that makes tomboys want to avoid girly things, but still be seen as female.
More importantly, the graphic novel holds a mirror up to the expectations placed on individuals by society when it comes to fulfilling gender roles. The book skillfully analyses expected gender roles, while also showing how going too extreme in belittling them can lead to perpetrating the same crimes that gender stereotypes bring into the mix.
Liz’s ability to look at what not only happened to her, but what she did and look at the wider consequences means that the book doesn’t blame one side more than the other. It’s mature in the handling of its subject matter and incredibly thoughtful and patient. It doesn’t assume you know where Liz is coming from and does its best to get you there without feeling patronising.
Tomboy is a refreshing read for a perspective that is often misrepresented in a lot of other media. Liz’s story is highly personal, but she does a great job of making it accessible beyond just people who have grown up in a similar situation. It is definitely worth your time and I highly recommend it for younger readers who would like to better understand what being a tomboy is like.
Want to find out more about the inspiration behind Tomboy? Check out my interview with its creator, Liz Prince, here on Hex.
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince is out now in the US and will be available in the UK before December. Our reviewer was provided with a digital review copy of the book.