I experienced a Homer Simpson do'oh! moment today, while finishing Liz Prince's Tomboy.
For several months now I've been searching out graphic books that I really like and I've been calling them graphic novels. Despite my tendency to be quite the ass when it comes to literary terms (if it's a factual history of World War II, it's not a "novel"!), I was blundering my way into the graphic world without guidance and I was calling anything with illustrations a graphic novel.
Today, I realized that what I like to read, far and above anything else in this genre, is graphic memoirs. Yeah... so, that's me, this week. Could it be the subtle subtitle on the cover, or has it been building all these months?
And how incredibly perfect is the photograph to the right, here? Taken from Liz's About Me page on her site: the absolute perfect image of what this book is all about. And was she not the most adorable child, pretty much ever?
Liz grew up basically despising other girls and it was all about the societal perceptions of what girls should be like: wearing dresses, not playing sports, not having boys as friends, wearing makeup and looking good for boys as they get older.
She prayed, as a child, to God to make her a boy, and seethed at the unfairness of approaching puberty.
The illustrations are simple, sweet, telling, painful.
I spent most of the book wishing desperately for Prince that she'd grown up in a different social time, a different community, or something. But then the end came up (far too quickly) and all the reading I've been doing this week suddenly hit me in one of those synchronistic moments.
See, I also just finished the new novel by Tana French, The Secret Place. I was reading the two books concurrently and on the surface they couldn't seem more different. But as I was finishing up Prince's memoir, they dovetailed. French's book is entirely about girls and, often, the agony they go through in their adolescent and teenage years. Who are your friends, and why? How much of your personality and actions in life are influenced by the people you hang out with, and are loyal to?
From The Secret Place:
Everyone knows a wife and kids tie you down. What people miss somehow is that mates, the proper kind, they do the same just as hard. Mates mean you've settled, made your bargain: this, wherever you are together, this is as far as you're going, ever. This is your stop; this is where you get off. Not just where you are: they tie you down to who you are. Once you have mates who know you, right down under the this-and-that you decide people you want to see today, then there's no room left for the someday person who'll magic you into being all your finest dreams. You've turned solid: you're the person your mates know, forever.
Fortunately for Liz, she stepped away from her early teenage mates. Whether intentionally or not, they manipulated her, shamed her, were confused by her, and she felt conflicted and uncomfortable when she was just trying to be herself. A chance meeting during a smoking session brought her into contact with friends outside her normal circle, and eventually that connection brought her to her true friends, her true companions who understood her.
And once she learned that it was the societal expectations of girls she despised, she realized it wasn't the girls themselves, including herself, whom she hated.
I've actually been looking to get my hands on a Liz Prince book for some time now (it seems that they may have been stolen from my local library), and I was happy to accept an advanced copy from Zest Books. My niece isn't a full-on tomboy, and she's not old enough quite yet for some of the content in this book, but I would be pleased to give her a copy when she's older because it's book that speaks volumes about finding one's way in the world, and how friends can be such a major factor in that, whether negative or positive.