This was a fun and surprising find that made its way into my hands via my wife’s reading list. Tomboy is a graphic novel/graphic autobiography portraying the writer/artist’s struggles with identity during her youth and teenage years. Since her earliest memories she recalls being strong willed in her denial of “girly’ expectations. She wouldn’t wear dresses or play with girl toys. Her hero was Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters and when she watched Star Wars she imagined herself as a Jedi, not the damsel in distress, Princess Lea. She was truly unique from her earliest years but her unique identity would cause her several years of anguish.
Liz’s parents were supportive of her choices, especially her mother who “just wanted you to be comfortable,” (15) and didn’t force Liz to wear things that she didn’t like as a child. Once she started school, however, her life changed as she became painfully aware that her fashion choices and playtime interests were not accepted by her peer’s expectations. Her friends were often boys up until the middle school years when suddenly the boys she hung out with outside of school would be embarrassed to hang our with her at school. During her middle school and high school years she did have a series of female friends that supported her, although she felt discouraged as they became progressively more interested in wearing makeup and altering their behavior as they got caught up with boys. Liz herself wasn’t immune to teenage romances, but her love life was often stunted by a disconnect between the boys that liked her and the boys that she was interested in since her appearance was often a roadblock to the boy’s attention. As her body developed into young womanhood she found herself hating her appearance, not wanting to have an outward appearance that was girly.
What is special about her story is that it is told with upfront honesty and enjoyable art that drives the narrative. Liz’s artistic career was actually influenced by a family friend, Harley, a young woman that supported her and pushed Liz to rethink her own ideas about boys and girls as depicted in a conversation with Liz when Harley states, “I would challenge you to decide: do you hate girls? Or do you hate the expectations put on girls by society” (211). Initially, Liz doesn’t know what to make of Harley’s challenge, but as she stumbled upon a new group of friends that exposed her to underground feminist literature, she realized that she had “subscribed to the idea that there was only one form of feminity and that it was inferior to being a man” (240).
Ultimately Liz finds comfort with her identity after she finds a group of friends who are a collection of misfits and social oddities that enjoy punk music and underground lit-zines, she realizes that her group of young adult friends are a community of people that accept her for who she is just as she accepts them for who they are. The story of Tomboy is charming because it is a fresh perspective of the coming of age genre that demonstrates how Liz found comfort with herself through the revelation that she is not alone in her uniqueness. You don’t have to be a Tomboy to enjoy Tomboy, you don’t even have to be a girl to enjoy it. It is a fun and touching graphic novel that is a worthwhile read for anyone who struggled through teenage identity, which is just about all of us don’t you think?