Tomboy is a graphic novel memoir by Liz Prince. In it, she talks about her experiences growing up as a girl who doesn’t fit the standards for behavior and appearance that society expects girls to meet. She writes about hating to wear dresses, being teased at school, and having trouble getting boys to see her as more than a friend. There are a lot of pages devoted to school-age drama, and I thought those parts were totally spot-on. Kids can be cruel, and friend groups and boy-girl relationships can be stressful and confusing.
Growing up, Prince wishes she was a boy because she likes boys clothing and hobbies better than girls’, but by the end she grows to understand that liking boys’ stuff and wearing boys’ clothes doesn’t mean she has to be a boy (although she still gets a kick out of passing for one!). A girl can be female and still like “boy” things, like baseball. She also comes to realize that her dislike of girls was influenced by negative ideas about girls absorbed through cultural osmosis, opinions that girls are rigid, prissy, weak, and emotional. Often, the media still portrays girls this way. I just watched the first episode of Black Mirror last night and the Prime Minister’s wife never forgives him for doing something really gross to save a princess’s life. He swallows his pride and does the right thing and she’s mad at him even though it’s not his fault? Please.
I think the best sections of the book were the ones about Liz’s relationship to her body. I think everyone could relate to wanting their body to be slightly different in some way, like wanting to be taller or stronger or thinner, but it’s different when your body doesn’t agree with your mind about your gender. It can be really awkward, because your body is pressuring you into a kind of behavior and a way of thinking about yourself that seems foreign to your mind, and you can’t reject it like “no I don’t want to be that” because the thing that’s pressuring you is a part of you and you can’t divorce it or cut it off or burn it without harming yourself. So there’s a constant dialogue, a negotiation going on between your ideals and your physique. And it ends up having a splitting effect on your consciousness. Liz Prince has some other comics on her website, a series called Liz vs Liz which is about how her head voices get along with each other (or don’t).
The comic goes through a good chunk of her experience growing up, from three years old until high-school age. Because of that, it has a kind of completeness that I didn’t get as much from similar books like Fun Home (although that book is also excellent!). It’s all tied together by the theme of gender nonconformity, so it feels very consistent and complete. The drawings are kind of simple, but funny, and they make it a quick read. It reminded me the most of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because Greg is a guy who is terrible at sports and gets bullied for being small, kind of the opposite of Liz (except her story is a little less mainstream). They both have a funny and sarcastic tone, so I think fans of Wimpy Kid would enjoy Tomboy as well.