Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Tag: tomboy

Does FRONT AND CENTER live up to its DAIRY QUEEN predecessors?

5 stars1In three earlier posts (November 1st and 9th, and December 9th, 2012) I wrote about some great middle grade and YA books that outdoorsy/sporty girls might really love, all of which I discovered have sequels I’d not known about but would’ve been eagerly awaiting and looking out for if I had. When I found out these books had sequels, I immediately bought them, and I’ve read them all now so I’ll give a review of each starting here and continuing in the next couple posts. It’s hard for books to live up to such high expectations…

First,  Front and Centerof Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen series (which would appeal to girls who enjoy sports, football and basketball in particular. Books in this series include, in order, Dairy QueenThe Offseason, and now, Front and Center):


I just love the character of D.J.Schwenk. She may be my favorite main character ever. She’s charmingly funny and awkward–humble, honest, insecure, a character just waking up to and beginning to own her talents, to feel comfortable in her skin as a girl, a female. She’s not the world’s greatest student, but she’s far from dumb and works hard at school. Due to her athletic talents, leadership qualities, and physical size (height and strength), she finds herself in the limelight without even wanting to be there. She hates all the attention. She’s clumsy around adults, clumsy with boys, clumsy  expressing herself verbally, confused and clumsy when it comes to her own emotions. She’s grown up on a Wisconsin dairy farm with football-star older brothers and a dad who’s treated her much the same as them, so she’s a little rough around the edges, thinks she has to be emotionally tough, that she’s not like other girls. She’s amazed that boys could find her attractive, doubts she could be seen as pretty or feminine. But she enjoys the attention of the boys, and she likes them (in fact she’s confused about which of two boys she likes more), and there is romance in the book, but the kind of romance I can stomach in YA–no sex. She’s amazed that Division I college coaches are recruiting her–in basketball. In the previous books in the series, football is the sport most focused on, but in this book, it’s basketball. The author did a great job of making the sports action sound realistic. Before reading the afterward at the end of the book, I thought she must’ve played basketball herself at a fairly high level–it rang that true–but by what she’s written in the afterward, it appears she just did her research well.

Anyway, I love this book as much as the two in the series that came before it, possibly even more because it’s about basketball, which was my sport. I give it a 4.9 out of 5 stars. Funny thing about this book and the others in the series: I didn’t think the plot of any of them was their strength. Or maybe it’s just that when I saw their cover art and read the jacket flap on each story, I wasn’t sure I was going to be interested in them even though they were being touted as sports stories. Football? Eh. Romance in YA? Ugh, always awkward IMHO. And I’ve already mentioned in a previous post how the cover art for these books seems to be going after mass appeal rather than reflecting the true spirit of the stories. Simply put, I loved these books because of the main character, D.J. Schwenk. Catherine Gilbert Murdock could write just about anything with D.J. as the protagonist, and I bet I’d love it no matter what the story was about, or how strongly-plotted. I care about D.J. I want to hear what she has to say, how she reacts to things. She makes me smile and laugh and feel like, yes, I know, me, too. I wouldn’t have felt so alone in the world as a kid if I’d had these books to read. Heck, I feel less alone as a grown adult.

So please write more, CGM! The story where D.J. is a freshman in college sounds great; I’ve written a story about a girl going on to play college basketball as well (but which doesn’t fall into a neat category, age-wise, for marketing/shelving purpose), so please pave the way and show that there is interest in such a transitional type YA story! It appears I’m not the only one who finds D.J. Schwenk so endearing; if you read the author comments at the back of the book, she tells of the great volume of fan mail she received from readers asking for more of D.J., whereas she’s not had the same reaction to the main characters of her other books. That shows what a beloved character D.J. is.



BRAVE: ‘a failure of female empowerment?’ No!

imgresWe watched the Disney Pixar movie Brave over the holidays and I really enjoyed it. As a kid, I would’ve LOVED it, as it’s exactly what I was starving for… A tomboy princess rebels against her over’bear’ing mom (if you haven’t seen it, bears figure into the story), a mom who reminds me of my own and how she was with me, both the good and irritating. A tomboy princess identifies strongly with her dad, a dad enjoys and encourages that; again, a dad who reminds me of my own, and how he was with me (but showing only the good side of that). Sure, I would’ve wished Princess Merida could have worn something other than the long dresses she wore, but even as a kid, I would’ve realized she was a product of her times.

Before watching Brave, I’d read several reviews with titles like, “Just Another Princess Movie,” and “Why Pixar’s Brave Is a Failure of Female Empowerment”… ( http://ideas.time.com/2012/06/22/why-pixars-brave-isa-failure-of-female-empowerment/) These reviews piqued my interest.

“Just Another Princess Movie”-http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/just-another-princess-movie/is a long essay/post with a thorough analysis of the movie and its motives and messages, and while it’s got interesting points and I actually agree with much of it, it’s confusing. The title of the post and the beginning of it are quite negative, yet  it goes on to appreciate the movie and all that can be found in it if you look deeper than many of its critics have (or if you don’t try to overanalyze things?). A point it makes that summarizes my feelings on the story is, “It’s in its exploration of the relationship between mother and daughter that the film really shines.”

Although many of the criticisms I read in reviews wouldn’t have occurred to me, it’s always interesting to see how others see things, and I get some of the complaints, especially this one; we need more girl main characters that fall between the extremes we’ve been presented with by movie makers. Historically we’ve been shown girl leads who are valued for their crowns and/or beauty, and we’ve recently had a few girl protagonists who are amazing with the bow-and-arrow or who can fight with the boys like Mulan or ‘bend it like Beckham,’ but we need to show more ‘normal,’ average types of girls and their stories, girls who are celebrated neither for being extremely feminine nor for their masculine prowess, girls who are not princesses or orphans. But Brave was a refreshing, non-stereotypical tomboy movie (although hardy, Merida was physically feminine) and another step in the right direction. Just maybe not as big a step as some were hoping for.

Our Only May Amelia


Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm is a story set in 1899 about a girl growing up in the state of Washington. She has seven older brothers and no sisters. She’s not only the only girl in her pioneering Finnish family (besides her mama), but the only girl ever born in their settlement. They live along a river where she and her brothers work, play, fish, explore, and encounter all sorts of outdoor adventures in their logging/fishing/farming community. May Amelia has a very hard time behaving or dressing like the proper young lady her family expects her to be. Maybe it would be easier if there were at least one other girl around, she thinks. Her secret wish is for a sister. And then Mama gets pregnant. Maybe she really will get a baby… Let’s just say this is a great story, wonderful setting, wonderful main character. It’s one of my all-time favorite tomboy novels.

The sequel to this story, The Trouble with May Amelia, came out in 2011.  just discovered it in doing this post and looking up the cover image for Our Only May Amelia, but I can’t wait to read it now.


Jennifer Holm is the award winning author of several middle grade and YA books I’ve enjoyed, including Boston Jane and the other books in the Boston Jane trilogy (as well as Newberry Honor Book Penny from Heaven).

Back On Board ‘The Girl Ship’

In two recent posts (November 16 and November 11, below) I wrote about being a tomboy and how, although I used to be proud of that and had a false sense of superiority over other girls/females, I now see the error in my old way of thinking. I wanted to expand on that a little bit today, on my mid-life epiphany.

I consider myself a recovering Tomboy. Not that being a tomboy is an addiction or a sickness, certainly not in everyone’s case anyway, but in my situation, I’ve come to see how I was a tomboy to such an extreme that I was actually a traitor to my kind, to my gender. I didn’t like the ship we girls got to sail in, so I jumped ship. Or at least I tried to. I mean rather than speak up and work to change things, change attitudes, rather than stick up for being a girl and say, “No, that’s not what I am” or, “Hey, this isn’t fair,” I just thought, “Well, if that’s what a girl is, then I don’t want to be one.” I even went so far as to go into denial and think, “I’m not a girl. I’m not all those things you think and say about girls.” Certainly as a little child it wasn’t conscious, and I don’t beat myself up for being a traitor (well, I did a little when I first discovered what I’d done and seen it in this light!), but that’s what I was, in effect. I tried to jump ship, from the girl ship to the boy ship. Read the rest of this entry »

How I got to be Such a Tomboy

I went from this in 5th grade…

…to this in 6th. So much happier because I was finally allowed to get my hair cut and wear boys’ clothes.

A couple of posts back, I wrote about the word ‘tomboy’ and how I’ve come to see it differently. I’ve thought a lot about the whole notion of being a tomboy and have a lot to say about it, at least about the kind of tomboy I was.

Why? Well, I’ve spent much of my life wondering why I was such a tomboy. As a kid I’d look around at the other girls–my sister, cousins, the girls in school, girls at church–and think How can they be happy? How can they be OK with it? How can they stand it? Am I the only one who hates being a girl? Why? Why don’t they feel like I do? 

My question was never, “Why was I a tomboy?” (I got that; I had two older brothers and wanted to do what they did and be just like them, I was born with a strong and capable body and delighted in seeing all that it could do, I had a natural affinity for the out-of-doors and nature, and I spent much of my childhood in a rural area. Exploring in the woods, weeds, dirt, and water, catching critters, running and jumping around, throwing things and climbing, riding bikes–those things were fun!) My question was, “Why did I become such an extreme, anti-anything-feminine tomboy?”

It’s taken many years, but I think I finally have it figured out  (and I share it here because I’ve never read anything on this, and I would’ve liked to. I would’ve liked to know I was not alone in this and that someone else understood. I know I can’t be the only one to have ever felt this way. There must be others out there. I’ve talked to people who can relate to a point, but never to anyone who can totally relate. So here it is, for those of you who were like  me–or still are–and would be glad to know you’re not alone, or for those of you who might better understand such a tomboy by reading this): Read the rest of this entry »

The Word TOMBOY; Can We Come Up With Something Better?


“Tomboy. Alright, call me a tomboy. Tomboys get gold medals, tomboys can fly, and oh yeah, tomboys aren’t boys.” Julie Foudy

I’m not sure I would’ve liked this quote as a kid, particularly the “…and oh yeah, tomboys aren’t boys” part. I wanted people thought to think I was a boy then.

But I like the quote now. Because now I see that a large part of what made me so anti-girl, well, that’s exactly what’s wrong with the word tomboy. Why do we have to define a strong, independent-minded girl in terms of ‘boy?’ Boys don’t own the qualities that make a girl a tomboy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the word tomboy. As I wrote on my ‘About’ page, there’s a certain nostaglia in it for me. I took pride in being called a tomboy, having people recognize that I was different than most other girls, typical girls, normal girls. Whatever that is. But in my mind I thought I knew. I had a definite idea of what a normal girl was. She was weak, a sissy, she occupied herself with frivolous things. She was touchy, giddy… But I see now, as an adult finally, the error in my thinking, the twisted conceit. There’s a paradox in thinking that you’re better than all other girls, when your whole reason for feeling that way is because you think your gender is so inherently inferior that you want to dis-identify with being a girl altogether. I mean it’s like you feel so inferior as that, that you pretend you’re not that, and that you’re better than those who are (and are at least honest enough to own up to and accept who they are, what they were born as!). You’re feeling superior because deep down inside you feel inferior. You turn your back on your own kind and say, Yeah, you’re right, Guys, girls (other girls, not me, I’m different) they aren’t anywhere near as good as you, …or me, because I’m like you. Anyway, I see now that part of the whole problem, part of what got me hating being a girl way back when, was that I felt I had to deny that I was a girl, that I had to define myself in terms of a boy. And the word ‘tomboy’ perpetuates that. So I see what’s wrong with it. And it would be great to find another term to replace it.

Words are important. And the origin of the word tomboy makes little sense. The meaning of the word is not at all clear. Well, the boy part is pretty clear, but Tom, tom+boy? Seems some combination of girl and boy  would be more appropriate– like suzyboy or sallyboy.

Steve suggests Strong Girl, but that doesn’t sit right with me because it brings up the image of a tough Amazon-woman type girl flexing her biceps for the camera. Not all tomboys are physically strong or tough. There are frail nature-girls who aren’t afraid to get dirty and muck around in nature looking for frogs and toads and snakes and crayfish, tender-hearted critter-loving tomboys who tend to birds with broken wings and orphaned baby mice. Girls who aren’t afraid to touch a worm but can’t stand to put the hook through the worm or the minnow’s back when fishing. There are athletic tomboys who are great at sports and enjoy them and are aggressive on the field or court, but who also love painting their nails and dressing up and looking feminine when they’re not competing. There are wee little girl explorers, and, yes, there are tomboys who wouldn’t be caught dead in pink and want to look as boyish as they can. And there’s everything in between. There are as many different kind of tomboys as there are anything else.

A tomboy could be aggressive, or simply assertive, or shy but determined. She might be hyper, fiesty, dramatic, calm and stoic, meek and mild, seemingly confident, cocky or insecure. Temperament varies widely. The only way that all tomboys are the same is that, in some way, they consistently exhibit  behavior(s) that are more the cultural norm for boys. Given the great variance in these girls, and this one general way that all tomboys are the same, it’s perhaps understandable  that the only term we’ve come up with to describe them includes the word boy! But can we not at least put some girl word in there? Girlboy? Boygirl?

I also think most tomboys are rather independent, because in order to be tomboys, they have to rebel a bit against the cultural norms. Rebelgirl? Wildgirl? There are many rebellious girls who are not at all tomboyish, though…

And terms such as Tree-climber, Nature-girl, and Sporty-girl, they’re too specific. We need a blanket term to replace tomboy, something girl-power-ish, but the whole notion of Girl Power always kind of turned me off, too, sounded too much like we were being cheerleaders for ourselves. It sounds puffed-up and braggy to me, makes me think girls-against-the-boys, girls-are-better-than-boys, and that isn’t true either.

I kind of like Wildgirl but it has the same problem as Rebelgirl… How about Wildergirl? Wondergirl. Freespirit, Freespirette. Freefilly. Indylass. SheKid…

Any ideas, anyone?

Dairy Queen

The YA novel Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock was a refreshing find for me when it came out (2006). It’s Tomboy Jock Lit at its best. I really enjoyed it and found the main character, D.J. Schwenk, to be  an endearing original who I hated to leave at the end of the story.

So I was glad when Catherine Gilbert Murdock wrote two more books featuring the same main character–The Off Season (2007), and Front and Center (2009). Read the rest of this entry »

Tomboy, the Movie

This is a beautiful film about a 10-year-old girl who finds herself in a position where she can pretend she’s a boy so she decides to enjoy that and get away with it for as long as she can. It’s quiet, yes, simple, spare, in French with subtitles…but if you are/were a tomboy, or if you know one and want to understand her better, you’ll want to watch this. I loved it. Can’t say I could relate to all of the main character’s experiences in the movie, her motivations, the things she did–there are as many different types of tomboys as there are anything else–but the basic essence of being a tomboy that it portrays, yes, and this does that better than maybe anything I’ve ever watched or read. It was so true, so Read the rest of this entry »

Once a Puer Always a Puer?

Do you know where this is?

[…continued from the last post’s topic…]

Puer, yes, that was me. I never wanted to grow up. I dreaded it. I convinced myself I wouldn’t, couldn’t. It wasn’t that I wanted to cling to the safety of home and parents, it wasn’t so much that I was afraid of change (I am); it was that I truly believed my body was physically incapable of the transformation from a straight-lined boyish build to what I saw as the disgusting curves of a woman. I saw them as something that would make me weak and vulnerable, something that would make men treat me as a doormat, look at me as a piece of meat, and forget I was a person who was just as important and had just as much to me as they did. I thought it would kill me and clung to the belief that I would never ever develop like all the other girls did and were. The fact that I was a latebloomer reinforced that. I clung Read the rest of this entry »

Vampirina Ballerina

With Halloween coming up, I would like to recommend a great new picture book (which has gotten quite a lot of buzz already) written by my friend and fellow writers group member, Anne Marie Pace–Vampirina Ballerina. It has something of a Halloween theme being that it’s about a little vampire girl and has all these wonderful spooky illustrations. As a former extreme tomboy who would’ve never shown herself in a leotard, I wouldn’t usually like a book about a ballerina, but this little vampire, even though she likes pink and tutus, she has tomboyish qualities about her.* The girl has spunk. She doesn’t quite belong but wants to do what she wants to do despite the odd looks she might get. She is brave. Even though she doesn’t quite fit in at first, she goes for it, and she has fun!

*(can you please help me think of a new word for tomboy, so that we don’t have to keep defining strong, independent-minded girls in terms of boys? I don’t hate the word because there’s a lot of nostalgia in it for me, but I do see what’s wrong with it…)