A Graphic Memoir GSQ Review: Tomboy…

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Welcome once again to a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today I have a memoir in graphic novel format that relates the tale of one Liz Prince, a girl who struggles to fit into the pre-packaged image of how a girl should look and how a girl should behave.  It’s a fantastically engaging book and one that may well become essential reading for anyone who feels that their biological attributes don’t match with society’s expectations as to how those attributes should be deployed.

tomboy

 

Tomboy is the story of Liz Prince – it chronicles the difficulties and triumphs she experiences from childhood into young adulthood and beyond, in identifying as a “tomboy”.  Liz likes baseball, superheroes and action figures, and feels most comfortable in jeans, a t shirt and her favourite cap.  She’s happy like this.  For her it is not a problem, it just is.  Imagine her surprise then, on discovering that the people around her, from her own siblings, to her classmates, to her teachers and coaches, seem to find this disconcerting in the extreme.  Tomboy covers the bullying that Liz experiences due to her boyish appearance, the difficulties in making and keeping friends that goes hand in hand with being visually different to one’s peers and the emerging problems that Liz encounters when trying to get to know boys in a romantic way while looking like a boy herself.  Tomboy is an important and emininently readable piece of work that speaks clearly to one girl’s struggle to figure out what exactly it is that makes a girl and where she fits on the spectrum of womanhood.

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Wow. Don’t be fooled by the cartoony style of the artwork, this is a book that packs an ideological and personal punch.  Before even a third of the way through the book, Mad Martha was nodding and tearing up, so close to home were the situations and emotions presented here by Liz.  The book follows a a chronological order, opening on a scene in which four-year-old Liz is screaming in an attempt to stop her mother from putting her in a dress.  From there we move on with Liz into her years in primary school and on towards middle and high school, by which point being the only comfortable tomboy in a crowd of pubescent teens becomes quite a challenge indeed.  The book finishes with Liz finding some stable ground as an adult in accepting how she is and how she wants to be and discovering that there is a community in which she can be socially accepted.

The art, as I mentioned, is in the traditional cartoon style and is both easy on the eye and perfect for conveying the humour underlying many of the situations Liz finds herself in.  See for yourself:

There’s plenty in the storyline that is though-provoking and touching and challenging, but there’s also a lot here that will be very familiar to anyone who’s beyond the age of 15, whether they had trouble fitting in with peers or otherwise.  In one sense, Liz is telling the story of any-teen in the struggles she has in making friends and finding her place and her passions, but over the top of that is her specific story of gender-image, which will also strike a chord with many teens, wherever they fall on the spectrum of appearing to be socially-acceptable.

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The only problem I had with this graphic novel is that I felt the pace started to drag a bit during the high school section of the memoir.  By that stage the issues that Liz was struggling with – particularly in terms of finding a romantic partner – had already been raised and the narrative seemed to get bogged down a little at this point.  That’s just my personal interpretation though, and I’m sure others will think differently.

There are also a few instances of swearing and “adult situations”, so if you’re not into that, steer clear.

Otherwise…I got nothing.  I really enjoyed Prince’s style in both artwork and written word.

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Two parts of this memoir really stood out to me as being original, in the sense that I hadn’t encountered them in fiction before.  (I realise that this is technically factual, in that it actually happened, but it’s a subjective retelling and presentation of a particular person, and in that sense, it reads like fiction).  The first was the very clearly outlined difficulties that Liz encounters as a heterosexual female whose personal fashion preference is decidedly masculine.  I haven’t encountered this in any YA before and I think it provided a real sense of depth to the story.  It got me thinking about how personal presentation and sexual preference are linked in our minds…if we see a woman dressed in man’s clothing, do we automatically assume she is a lesbian? If so, why?  How does this affect young people as their identity is emerging in the teen years – do they feel pressure to conform to gender image expectations and how does this affect them psychologically if they do conform or if they don’t?  These are things that I am still pondering and it was wonderful to see these presented realistically for a YA and new adult audience.

The second thing that jumped out in this particular memoir was Liz’s personal dislike (bordering on gut-wrenching hatred) of anything considered to be “girly”.  This was articulated fantastically throughout the memoir, and resolved somewhat in the latter part of the story as Liz begins to separate the idea or image of “girliness” being bad from the idea that being a girl (or a woman) is bad.  This part of the story raises some great questions about attitudes in wider society about females and femininity and the worth that is placed on boys’ activities (and therefore, boys) as opposed to girls’ activities (and therefore, girls).  While I’ve definitely come across these arguments in reading on feminism that I have eagerly devoured in the past, it was refreshing to see it presented in situ, as it were, as it unfolded in Prince’s life and development.

My overall take on the book?

A must-read, must-discuss, must-unpack book for anyone working with young people or anyone who has any interest in gender stereotyping.  And anyone who likes a good graphic memoir, really 😉

I realise I’ve blabbed on a bit here, but this really is one of those rare books that comes along and touches a nerve, inspires important discussions, and makes one cling all the more defiantly to one’s favourite, comfy, non-fashion-forward hat.

Tomboy is due for release on September 28th from Zest Books and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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ARC Adult Fiction Lantern Review: The Indifference League…

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Good morning to you, you super reader, you! It is Mad Martha with you today, (AKA the Poetical Affliction!) with a lantern review of a book for the grown-ups.  Today’s offering is The Indifference League by Richard Scarsbrook.

The Indifference League focuses on a group of high school friends (although the term could be applied loosely) who have chosen to gather together in their collective 30th year to relive some memories and (maybe) rekindle some old flames.  But this is no ordinary group of friends, oh no….this is The Indifference League! You see, on finishing school, this group of friends decided to form a pact which involved the adoption of a range of made up superhero names, and a commitment to use these names exclusively whenever they gather together.  The name of the group may indicate to you that the plan, such as it was, did not extend to the friends actually doing anything else, above and beyond calling each other by these silly names when they get together.   So after being privy to the initial formation of the group, the reader is then akin to a fly on the wall as the present-day meeting of the Indifference League (and their associated spouses and girlfriends) descends into an interesting blend of reminiscence and competition to see who’s life has turned out the least worst.  Will Mr Nice Guy finally make the move from boy-friend to boyfriend?  Can the Statistician dampen the fuse on the Time Bomb before she blows? And will the Hippie Avenger ever win an argument against SuperKen and SuperBarbie? Stay tuned to find out – same Indifferent Time, Same Indifferent Channel!

the indifference league

POW!

In no

time at all

we all got old.

Sigh.

This was a fun, light read.  In fact, were it not for the fact that I particularly dislike the beach (sand in the sock dreadlocks is very difficult to remove), then I would class it as a perfect beach read for those who aren’t into fluffy romance, popular psuedo-erotica or chick-lit about the sassy divorcee starting over in a small coastal town.    The story is essentially about a group of people in the late twenty-early thirty sort of age bracket, who are just beginning to realise that their first flush of youth may be rapidly dulling into a faded, scratchy magenta.  All the expected existential themes are present and accounted for – the nagging discontent about marriage/job/direction in life (or lack of it), the dilemma of how to reinvent oneself while surrounded by old acquaintances, the disturbing realisation about not having moved up the social ladder since high school – and these are deftly depicted through the various superhero identities as they prepare and attend the gathering.

The story is told by focusing on one or two characters per chapter, so the pacing varies nicely and gives the reader a chance to really get to know each characters’ situation and how they fit into the overall picture.  I found the labelling of each character with a psuedo-superhero identity super-helpful while reading because it meant that I didn’t have to keep track of names, as the groups stretches to about nine at one point.  Also, the superhero names immediately encapsulated the characters’ personalities, meaning that there didn’t need to be a lot of individual character description and development which would have dragged the plot back. The book also contains little bytes of information in the form of collector cards at the beginning of each chapter, which I felt was a clever way of imparting information about the characters and their past interactions, and a quirky, appealing additionto the book.

While I wouldn’t say that this was a groundbreaking or outstanding read, it was peppered with funny situations and dialogue exchanges and the premise of giving the characters superhero identities was a fun, engaging twist on an otherwise fairly standard “hey we’ve all grown up” plot.  I will say however, that the ending for one of the characters (Mr Nice Guy, incidentally) was quite poignant and unexpected and ratcheted my good feelings toward the book up a notch.

Overall, I’d recommend this one to readers who want to experience the nostalgia of hanging out with a group of old (if not necessarily good) friends, or alternately, those who want a bit of inspiration for superhero names that they could secretly apply to certain “old friends” on the sly.

The Indifference League is released on September 1st.

Hi ho, Mad Martha, AWAY!!

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

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Read it if: Cinderella Ate My Daughter….

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Now is that a great title, or is that a great title? In fact, it was a brief glimpse at the title of today’s book that fired my curiosity and ultimately led to my immersion in the topic, despite not having a daughter myself.  Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontline of the New Girly Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein delves into the baffling, overwhelming and generally difficult-to-negotiate world of parenting young girls in the modern era.  The book focuses around Orenstein’s own struggles and contradictory actions in balancing out a healthy, fun childhood experience for her daughter with her own philosophies and values around gender and identity.

For Orenstein, raising a daughter to be a strong, confident person with a diverse range of talents and interests and a healthy understanding of her own femininity and the numerous ways in which it can be expressed, was a simple and straightforward matter.  Then, of course, she had a daughter.  Let the befuddlement (and 5th birthday spa and facial parties) commence!

cinderella

Read it if:

* you have noticed that Disney Princesses, when depicted together, never make eye contact, and you are curious as to why that might be

* you shook your head in bewilderment on realising that Dora (intrepid explorer and wielder of the purple backpack of adventure) was suddenly dressing in fairy and princess garb

* you’ve suddenly noticed a lot more four-year-olds of your acquaintance wearing lip gloss and eye shadow

* you can’t remember when entire aisles at the toy store became swathes of pink….even in the Lego section

* you are the parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or carer of a female under the age of 18

 
I found this to be an enlightening read despite not having female offspring to apply it to.  Orenstein exposes some of the more insidious aspects of girl culture while acknowledging the difficulties parents (herself included) experience in finding a middle ground that allows kids to be shielded from incessant (and age-inappropriate) marketing drives, while still enjoying activities and toys that are important to their peers.  It’s also a reasonably quick and light read with plenty of humour, and with thought-provoking material in every chapter it’s the sort of book that provides value even when being skimmed, or picked up and put down.  Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

Retro Reading: Books about Puberty…..

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Yes, it’s that time again – time to link arms with a trusted confidante (ie: me) and take a stroll down memory lane. BYO mosquito repellent and hayfever medication.

Recently I have been contemplating that most treacherous of life events – puberty.  A younger colleague of mine has just begun on this road to adult gargoyle-hood and is most vexed at the appearance of mould where there was no mould before.  It was while I was advising him of the necessity of a meticulous morning-and-evening cleansing routine to keep this problem in check, that I decided I should re-read some classics related to this special time for young gargoyles and fleshlings alike.

To that end I selected two that I remembered well (or at least I thought I did…): the perennial favourite Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume and Pig City by Louis Sachar.

are you there godIt may come as a surprise to those of you who have read Are You There God?…., but on re-reading I had absolutely no recollection of any of the content pertaining to Margaret’s investigations into different religions. None, whatsoever.  How could this be? I wondered – clearly, this was an important part of the main character’s growth and development throughout the plot.  It’s even mentioned in the title, for goodness sake.

It was about this time that I began to suspect that on my initial reading, drawn by content arguably more interesting to a young buck undergoing certain important life changes, that I may have skipped the bits about religion and flicked through to the advice about increasing one’s bust…..Yes, dear reader, I believe that I may have been guilty of skipping large chunks of the story in order to get to the spicy bits! Surely, though, this small infraction can be forgiven – as creatures of stone, gargoyles have a vested interest in busts (of the artistic, sculptural variety) and advice as to how to make a bigger one could be just the ticket for a gargoyle without a lower half to take a step up in the world, so to speak.

In re-reading Pig City, you will be pleased to know I did not uncover any nasty surprises about content I had forgotten, for this book was certainly on high rotation in my reading list at that time.  Strangely though, I had forgotten all about the book itself until I recently overheard something that jogged my memory and I felt an immediate need to search it out.

pig city

The story follows the sixth-grade school year of Laura Sibbie and friends as they grope their way up, down and across the social ladder through the creation of various clubs.  The initiations and subsequent fall-out of these friendships make up the bulk of the story, and very entertaining it is too.  This is a much milder take on the beginnings of adolescence than that presented in Judy Blume’s work – the characters still have the charm and innocence that Blume’s more wordly girls do not.

Having had its first outing in 1987 though, I wonder how much the events in Pig City mirror the experiences of today’s children in grade six and seven.  I can’t help but feel that the squabbles depicted here would nowadays be more likely to occur in a younger age group than the technology-savvy, know-all-about-it pre-teens of the post-noughties.

I must say, having re-dipped the toe into books about this life event, I feel I must seek out more as the embarrassing predicaments in which the characters find themselves are really quite fun to read about.

Any suggestions from fellow bloggers about classic “growing up” reads to tackle?

Until next time,

Bruce

Haiku Review: Pigeon English….

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Afternoon all, Mad Martha with you again! Now Pigeon English by Stephan Kelman has been waiting on the shelf for quite a long while now, ever since I saw it in a second hand bookshop after having briefly read a review a month or two prior and remembering that it sounded like something I might possibly be interested in reading if I could find the time or motivation.  I can now happily report that I have picked it off the pile and finished it, and am all the better for it.

Pigeon English relates the thoughts of Harri, an eleven year old boy who has recently migrated from Ghana to London with his mother and older sister.  The story opens with Harri reflecting on the recent stabbing death of a boy in his neighbourhood, and continues on through a six-period during which Harri spends time investigating the boy’s murder, learning about girls, the social pecking order and certain English turns of phrase, and generally growing up.  The pigeon of the title refers to a bird that alights on the balcony of Harri’s apartment one day, beginning a (slightly one-sided) companionship that develops during the second half of the book.

This book really surprised me.  I was expecting a run-of-the-mill puberty story with the slight point of difference of a migrant’s perspective, but Kelman has really created a likeable character in Harri and has given him a charming, cheeky and endearing voice.  Another great strength of this book is the issues with which it deals (specifically, the culture of violence, bravado and peer-pressure that exists in some sections of youthful society).  The ending of this book came as a major shock, although admittedly the clues are clearly stated earlier in the story should the reader wish to take note.

But to cut a long story into seventeen syllables, here is my haiku review of Pigeon English:

pigeon english

A boy and a bird

present in living colour,

learning love and loss

I thoroughly recommend this book although I feel I must warn you that while the protagonist is quite young, the language use and some of the content suggest that this is a read for slightly older children (middle to late teens). 

Until next time,

Mad Martha