As a woman who was once a girl, I have a pretty strong understanding of the importance of strong female role models. I had them, for sure – in life, and in books. The best role models, to me, were the ones who I maybe didn’t appreciate at the time. But with the magnificent perspective of practically middle age, I can look back and say how glad I am that I had some pretty fierce women to look up to.
Which is why I cannot for the life of me understand why I had not read anything by Tamora Pierce until now. Maybe it’s because I was raised in a house where there were no books with dragons on the cover (hooray for being able to blame my parents!). By the time I got to college, I certainly knew of Tamora Pierce – all of my fierce classmates were obsessed – but I thought I was too old.
Anyway, so, finally. A few weeks ago I read Alanna: The First Adventure, which is the first (duh) in the Song of the Lioness series. This, I think, is the one that people love. How many women grew up wanting to be Alanna? (How many men, for that matter – she kicks some pretty serious butt.)
Oh, am I getting ahead of myself? How unusual. I was just really excited by this book. Alanna is rad.
Right, so if you haven’t guessed yet, Alanna is a girl. In Tortall, the world she lives in, girls go to a convent and learn magic, boys go to knight school and learn how to fight and ride and have adventures. Alanna’s twin brother, Thom, is more interested in magic than swords. So it’s pretty convenient (and, OK, very dangerous) for them to just switch places. With the help of her loyal servant, Coram, Alanna puts on some baggy clothes and learns how to become a page. A page named Alan.
But Alanna has more to face than just the fact that she is a girl. She’s small, and she gets picked on by her classmates. Despite befriending Prince Jonathan, who would happily defend her, she practices extra-hard and defeats the bully on her own. (Girl, I was cheering at that part.)
Alanna also possesses some powerful magic, which is not entirely unheard of in Tortall. But Alanna’s father was so against magic that she’s barely learned to use it – and she’s more powerful than many.
But Alanna’s chief strength is her goodness. She’s not perfect – she lies kind of a lot – but she’s tenacious and kind, and people respond well to her. Well, to Alan. She befriends George, the King of the Thieves who, for a bad guy, is pretty awesome. But she also runs afoul of some questionable characters.
Let’s stop talking about the plot. Suffice it to say: Pierce sets the stage for Alanna’s adventure, both in the climax of the book and in future volumes. It’s page-turning stuff.
Alanna is written at a pretty young reading level – the heroine is ten at the start of the book, and that’s probably the target audience – but even as an adult, there is a lot to appreciate. There’s humor, adventure, and an unforgettable heroine. I am definitely going to get a copy of this book for my niece. She’s totally obsessed with princesses, and I am looking forward to giving her a different perspective. (Not that there’s anything wrong with princesses!)
To that end, I would only recommend this book for young people who show signs of being strong, independent, smart, and tenacious. Or for youngsters who do not.
And, please, for the love of Alanna, everybody come see Tamora Pierce at the Book Festival this weekend! (Saturday at 4 p.m.) Interviews I’ve read show promise of Pierce being every bit as strong and opinionated as her heroines.