Friday, October 31, 2014

Blog Tour: Tomboy by Liz Prince

Tomboy by Liz Prince. 255 p. Zest Books, September, 2014. 9781936976553. (Finished copy courtesy of the publisher for review.)

I'm afraid that this entry will be less a review and more of a rumination inspired by Liz Prince's YA debut, her graphic novel memoir, Tomboy. She has done something special here in that Tomboy manages to be both evocative and provocative in the best possible ways. I responded to this memoir on several levels - as an ex-tomboy, or perhaps a traitorous one as I do like to wear dresses, as long as they're comfortable (my footwear, even in dresses, is often a pair of Cons); as the mom of four former boys who tried very hard not to reinforce gender expectations; and as a middle school librarian who strives for diversity in collection development.

One afternoon, I happened to be at the public library across the street picking up a book when I spied Tomboy in the new book display. A student immediately sprang to mind so I grabbed it. Later that day, a request for blog tour participants was posted to the YALSA listserv and I had already decided I loved the book and wanted it for my collection. I asked to join. 

Sadly, the student I had originally thought would appreciate the book is a very "young" sixth grader and the audience is more grade eight and up. And, it's marketed that way. I'm happy it's here for those readers but I would love a middle grade and picture book to start a similar conversation for younger audiences. The earlier the better, I say. The eighth graders are complete a memoir unit at my school and I think Tomboy would be a great addition to that collection.

Readers will either see themselves or recognize someone as they read Tomboy. Young Liz Prince is a strong person with strong feelings that won't be denied or rerouted and, while these traits might make one prickly, there's something admirable about the courage it takes to go your own way. 

I loved how her parents accepted her clothing choices. Her mom, in particular chose not to fight that battle. I also love how Principal Brother George had a conversation with Liz when she violated the dress code on mass day at her school instead of coming down hard on the violation. And I adored how Liz was able to articulate her stand, "Even if nobody teased me, it's still too distracting. It's like I'm wearing a costume." (p.172) We want our students to be self-aware and to advocate for themselves. It's good to remember that doing so can make one stand out and the attention garnered is not always positive.

Growing up is so hard. It was hard back in the prehistoric days when I was young; but I think it's even harder now. We are saturated with media and subjected to a constant onslaught of products and image ideals. While kids could be cruel in my day, cruel kids today have a variety of tools to use to crush the spirit of their victims. Some days, when I am watching students on the playground, or in the hallways, or in the library, I wonder how they can even be present to learn, given all the academic rigor PLUS the interpersonal minefields to be navigated. That's when my compassion reservoir gets refilled. Reading books like Tomboy is also a reminder to be compassionate and open. There is so much in Liz's journey that teens and the adults who care for and about them can relate to. 

The art is simple and accessible. The situations and dialogue ring true. Most importantly, there's a great message here that doesn't feel or sound like a message.

Be sure to visit Zest's page for the other stops on this blog tour as there are interviews and give-aways and lots of great reviews to read. Thank you Zest, for the opportunity to read and share Tomboy. Tomboy fills the need for diverse books and is a must-purchase for collections serving teens.

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