Liz Prince always wanted to wear boy’s clothes and take part in activities that boys flocked to, like baseball. She wanted to be a boy, not because she felt she was a boy, but because she felt that boys had all the fun. She had a handful of friends – other tomboys or boys. And she had crushes on boys – mostly unrequited, though not in one rather cruel instance – and sometimes on her friends who were boys, which mostly didn’t work out too well.
But it is only when she starts talking to an older woman, Harley, that she begins to sort out who she is and where she could fit in. Harley asks: “Do you hate girls? Or do you hate the expectations put on girls by society?” – though at the time Liz doesn’t see that there’s a difference to these questions. It’s only later, when she’s reading a zine, that she comes to the realization that she “wasn’t challenging the social norm, [she] was buying into it!” by believing that girls could only be giggling cheerleaders in pink frocks. She has the epiphany that she could be a girl on her own terms, and having made that realization, she can find a community.
Told by the current Liz, who occasionally breaks into the narrative to comment on her younger self, this graphic memoir uses simple line drawings to keep the story moving along, with occasional breaks into diagrams using those international symbols of male and female from bathroom doors, along with mathematical symbols.
As a tomboy myself – not as hardcore as Liz, but not as weedy as the celebrity she calls out – I found this a very sympathetic read. And though the conclusion she comes to, that we should all be accepted for who we want to be, sounds glib on paper, I think we can feel the struggle it was for her to get to that point and actually believe it. I work with teenagers, and I see some of them having the challenges that Liz had to find their place in the world, and I applaud any book that is as honest as this one about the thorny path that can take.