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Legacy of Strong, Female, Fantasy Characters

Alanna: The First Adventure

Don’t you love the new year’s big events--the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and the American Library Association’s book awards?  

Last week, librarians everywhere eagerly watched this year’s announcements, hoping to hear that their favorites were selected.  Many shouted in exaltation, while others shook their fists at colleagues who didn’t make the choices we preferred.  Although I did a little of both, one announcement was particularly thrilling.  Tamora Pierce, one of my favorite authors, won the prestigious Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens.  

I was introduced to Pierce when I read “Alanna: The First Adventure,” the beginning of her Song of the Lioness series.  I quickly devoured it and the other titles, even venturing into work on a weekend so that I didn’t have to wait to read the next one.  Alanna wants to be a warrior but, in her world gender roles dictate her future.  In the tradition of many real life heroine’s, Alanna cuts her hair, and disguises herself as a boy, pursuing the future she desperately wants.  Smaller and weaker than the other pages, she has to work twice as hard to keep up and of course there’s always the stress of her secret.  Despite bullying and other struggles, she manages to make friends, including a rakish King of the Thieves and the heir to her country’s throne.  Alanna’s struggles and adventures continue in this compelling series that masterfully combines romance, fantasy and adventure with themes of women’s roles, love and sacrifice and identity all of which combine with great teen appeal.  

Pierce has created a legacy in teen fantasy of strong, female characters, who are unlikely heroines facing great obstacles while undertaking complex journeys of self-discovery.  

One such title is “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” by Rae Carson.  Elisa isn’t your typical heroine, even for books.  She’s not lithe and confident, but instead plump and insecure.  As royalty, she is marrying the King her father demands while trying to be the Queen everyone expects, but with power there is a price and enemies are everywhere.  Attacked by bandits on the way to her new home, she finally arrives, only to be kidnapped by cohorts of someone she trusted and dragged across the desert as a pawn in their quest for independence. Forced to live outside everything she’s ever known and dependent on herself as never before, Elisa discovers amazing self-reliance.  She uses her keen political insight to help her kidnappers, not because of Stockholm Syndrome, but due to an astute understanding of the politics of her newly adopted country.  We share this exciting adventure in our Cafe Book, middle school discussion classes, and teens are loving it!

Guardians of the Dead” by Karen Healey is magic realism, a fantasy set in the modern world of New Zealand.  Ellie considers her life boring; there’s school, hanging with her best friend, Kevin, but nothing exciting.  Until a series of grisly murders begin in her small town and a mysterious woman takes too much interest in Kevin.  Then Ellie discovers that there is truth in many of the Maori legends she’s grown up with and a very real threat to her world, unless she stops simply existing and embraces her destiny.  The exotic setting and contemporary time period create a delightfully creepy story with a likeable heroine you can’t help but root for. 

Originally published in the 2/5/13 Free Lance-Star newspaper.