Review: Tomboy by Liz Prince (plus giveaway)

Saturday 8 November 2014
This post is part of the Zest Books True Stories Fall Blog Tour.

There’s a joke among my friends. If I ever get married, I’ll have the least attractive bridal party. It will be made up of beer-guzzling 30-somethings who sport flannel shirts and beards. It’ll be made up of my best friends, all of which are dudes. Being one of the guys has always been part of my identity, standing in line with being bookish and being shy. I never gave it much thought. These friendships just always seemed natural. Obvious.

Yet while reading Tomboy, a graphic memoir by Boston cartoonist Liz Prince, I thought a lot about gender and friendship. I thought about navigating that in-between space when you don’t feel like a girl, but you don’t feel like a boy either. I thought about how Prince articulated this in-between space so much better than I ever could through her clever dialogue and illustrations.

Growing up, Prince was anything but a girly girl. While girls her age played dress-up, wobbling in their mother’s high heels and painting their faces with make-up, she preferred emulating Luke Skywalker and Dennis the Menace. She played sports. She drew comics. She befriended boys. She was by all definitions a tomboy. But what exactly does that mean?

The definition Prince uses, and dismantles, is “a girl of boyish behaviour.” But “boyish behaviour” is all kinds of subjective. In order to understand that definition, you have to have pre-conceived notions about what it means to behave like a boy. (As I saw in an advertisement for Toys’R’Us the other day, society has no trouble pushing what that means on children from a young age.)

Tomboy begins with Prince as a toddler, screaming bloody murder at the sight of a dress, which turns out to be the least of her problems. In the decade and a half that follows, she’s bullied mentally and physically as she navigates love, friendship, and loneliness as a tomboy. It’s impossible not to relate to Prince and her funny, heartbreaking, and often awkward tale. This is especially true if like Prince you were a child of the 80s and 90s. Tomboy not only has multiple Popples, but both a Frog and Toad and an Are You Afraid of the Dark reference!

But I digress.

I can’t call myself a tomboy. As a kid, I loved pink. I played with Barbies, I loved my plastic Fisher Price food, and I thought Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid was the handsomest of all the Disney princes. But there was also one birthday when I only asked for a soccer ball, and I got three. I loved my Easy-Bake Oven, but I much more preferred baking up Creepy Crawlers. I wore nylons and dresses, but never minded getting them dirty. I caught frogs, minnows, turtles, and snails. I was all kinds of contradictions, and I still am today.

When I was about eight, my parents were chaperones on a class trip to Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair. I was given the high honour of choosing who would be in our “group.” I chose my best friends, who of course, were all boys.

“Do you realize you’ve chosen all boys?” my teacher asked with a raised eyebrow. “Are you sure you don’t want to choose some girls?” He looked at me as if I were mistaken, or worse yet, committing a crime.

“I didn’t understand why the schoolyard decided to function like an awkward school dance, with boys on one side and girls on the other,” writes Prince. I couldn’t understand either.

Tomboy is a coming-of-age memoir, but at the same time it’s something more. It’s cheeky and charming, but it’s also subtly political. It questions what it means to be a girl on society’s terms, and how difficult it can be to live outside that pastel pink box.

Toward the end of the book, Prince’s mentor asks her one of many, but likely the most crucial, questions raised in the book: “Do you hate girls? Or do you hate the expectations put on girls by society?”

It’s a good question, and one that Tomboy unpacks completely.


Interested in reading this amazing book by Liz Prince? I'd love to give you a copy! This giveaway if open to all residents of the United States and Canada.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Interesting. I wonder why people (parents and teachers and others) leave children find their own way. My sisters and I never fit the mold of girls must be with girls and boys with boys. My sisters liked to play house, but 5 minutes later would be out with us (the boys in the neighborhood) building things or working on our bicycles or even in the alley wanting to help my grandfather when he was working on one of his trucks.

    I could add and add, but will spare you and other readers the grief.

    I do need to get a copy of the book though. Not by entering your contest though. Not that I expect to win, but because I do not live in Canada. International postage on even a letter is a killer.

    Thanks for the fine review.

  2. My girlfriend read this for a giveaway on her blog too, and said I absolutely had to have it and that I'd relate so much. As she likes to continue to quote me from my brother's wedding day when she was trying to help me get used to my bridesmaid dress "My inner goddess likes pants".

    I know I need this book, and I will have it one way or the other.

    This entry and comment was done in Batman pajamas xoxo

  3. I would love to win a copy bc I feel like I could relate to it a lot and have fond(and others not so good) memories of when I was a tomboy. Thank you for the giveaway!


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