Nine years have passed since I traipsed into my teenage years, frizzy hair and Paul Frank wardrobe jubilantly in tail. My interests, as a quick Google search of my old username from my Geocities days can show you, have evolved steadily from gems like “I read like alot and love the color purple!!!!!” to the “Recent honors graduate from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK with an emphasis in creative writing” you’d find on my LinkedIn.
Despite the exquisitely painful wording, thirteen-year-old me made an excellent point: I do read, like, alot. Not only that, but stacked next to my required Malory, Chaucer, and Milton you’ll find a much more dog-eared, and immeasurably more-loved pile of Tamora Pierce novels, purchased by a girl who loved the color purple and still read often by her twenty-two year-old counterpart. Here are four reasons why.
1. The women in them could kick Carrie Bradshaw’s ass.
I often wonder what it is about chick lit that manages to so ensnare adult women. It baffles me not only because those pastel-covered books constantly fill best-seller’s lists, but because I too have fallen prey to their saccharine clutches and I’m still unsure how it happens. Women in those books consistently have three things in common: money, beauty, and this uncanny ability to have their life made perfect by finding their (gorgeous) true love. What they never do is kick any ass - or if by some miracle they do, it’s just so they can further accomplish goals A through C. Does that irritate anybody else? Because it’s one of the things that has me constantly yearning for another read-through with Alanna.
For those of you that aren’t avid Pierce fans, Alanna is the heroine from Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness Quartet. There’s not really a surer sign of some ass-kicking than referencing the savanna’s largest carnivore where all the women do the hunting. Anyway. Alanna exists in a vaguely medieval fantasy land where women are banned from knighthood. Being the badass that she is, and conveniently having a twin brother that doesn’t mind being sent off to learn how to be a mage (tough life), Alanna decides to change this, disguise herself as her brother, and become the first female knight in centuries. Yes, she finds love - but not in the obnoxious, cloying manner that ninety percent of chick lit protagonists do so. Nor is it the driving force of the narrative. Alanna’s a busy girl and she’s got things to do other than look pretty and get married. It’s a beautiful thing, Alanna’s spunk. I just wish more female adult protagonists had it.
I understand that within the confines of realism it’s somewhat difficult to find an equivalent to “first female knight in centuries”. This brings me to reason number two.
2. They remind me that fantasy does, and always will, kick realism’s ass - and liking it doesn’t make you a loser.
I love George R.R. Martin. I love him for so many more reasons now than I did six years ago when I first picked up A Game of Thrones. Why? Because he has proved to the world (I’m looking at you, Ginia Bellafante) that you don’t have to wear glasses and lack a social life in order to love fantasy and that it does have a real place in the literary world. Unfortunately, though, his books are impossible to read without a box of Kleenex or a bottle of wine nearby, so when I’m looking for good fantasy that doesn’t make me feel slightly miserable, I reach for Protector of the Small or the Immortals.
So many people think that the label fantasy immediately renders a book irrelevant to any literary discussion that it drives me to distraction - part of me wonders how I managed to sit through my contemporary fiction classes where this same concept was shoved down my throat between dense bites of Maps of Lost Lovers andMovern Callar. Tamora Pierce’s novels have really important lessons for young girls that are, if anything, made all the more clear by their setting in a fantasy realm. Kel, the heroine of the Protector of the Small series, is renowned for - you guessed it - standing up for those weaker than her. She sees her values through physical and emotional trials until she succeeds and, what do you know, she manages to do it without relying on a guy. You’d almost think a successful single woman that we enjoying reading about is in itself the fantasy element.
3. Alanna, Daine, and Kel could ALL kick Bella Swan’s ass.
Let’s ignore the fact that my tuxedo cat Angus would probably qualify for the list of things that could kick Bella Swan’s ass and focus instead on the difference between this point and my first one. Carrie Bradshaw embodies a lot of what is wrong with adult chick lit. Yeah, she’s super talented, gorgeous, and inexplicably loaded. But she’s intelligent, has a job, and in her own special way, has a semblance of a life outside of men. Bella Swan, however, takes it to an entirely new level by representing a horde of terrible ideals to a fresh, impressionable generation of teenage girls. At least a woman that picks up a Candice Bushnell novel knows what she’s getting into. That tween looking down her nose at the girls watching Jersey Shore, though? She thinks she’s better than them because she’s using BELLA SWAN as a ROLE MODEL.
Okay, so at least Twilight gets girls reading and Bella Swan isn’t paid to get wasted and be an asshole. But how much does it say about the young adult fiction of today that utter tripe like Twilight and Gossip Girl are what girls have to look up to? There is not a single heroine outside of Hermione Granger that has the household notoriety or inexplicable fan-dom of Bella Swan, and that makes me two things: sad, for the complete fops that comprise much of female youth these days; and proud, to still be a fan of kick-ass heroines like Alanna, Daine, and Kel over ten years later.
The other day I found this on Tamora Pierce Confessions:
Case in point.
4. They inspire me to write just as much today as they did ten years ago.
All of the above reasons combine for this one, really, because they essentially add up to the fact that these books embody most everything I love about reading and writing and I was lucky enough to find them at such a tender age. The characters are admirable, charming, and utterly believable. They’re perfect for giving a young girl goals, hopes, and dreams that rely on their own strengths. Take a look around today’s young adult bookshelves and you’ll find those are ideals that you can never have enough of.
There are few things in this world more fantastic than being inspired. To create something that stirs a complete stranger into action is a phenomenal gift. Tamora Pierce has that gift in every sense of the word and reading her books makes me relive it every time. From ass-kicking to inspiration, these girls have got it, and that is why I’ll still be turning those pages in another ten years.