“Girls are 50% of the population. We deserve to represent 50% of the heroes.”
– Tamora Pierce
Sometimes the people who inspire us never existed. And sometimes it’s the people who created those fictional characters who furnish the inspiration.
Tamora Pierce is an author of young adult fantasy novels, and at the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating, I can tell you that she changed my life. Tamora Pierce writes books about strong women, or “sheroes.”
When Pierce was starting out in writing, there was (and to some extent, still is) a belief that books about boys were more marketable. The theory goes that young adult girls will read stories about male heroes, but young adult boys won’t read about female leads—write about a boy and you have twice the market, meaning there weren’t as many stories about heroic girls, and not as many role-models for girls to read about.
But almost thirty years ago, Pierce wrote Song of the Lioness. It’s a fantasy quartet about Alanna, a girl who desperately wants to become a knight, even though it’s a profession not open to women. So Alanna disguises herself as a boy, and sets about to do it anyway. She’s brave and strong, knows who she is and what she wants, keeps up with the boys and earns their respect. It’s a wonderful story. I read the books at a young age, and they made a huge impression on me. Since then, I’ve read many other books about strong girls, and Pierce certainly isn’t the only author writing those characters. But she was at the beginning of a changing trend, and she was one of the first to make a big impact with me.
I’m a firm believer that a girl can do anything a boy can do, that women should have the same rights as men, and that we all ought to be equal, whether in pay rates or in who cleans the house. I’m sure a lot of that belief comes from my parents, especially my mom, but I think reading about Alanna at a young age helped.
I also know I’m not unique in this—off the top of my head I can think of three friends who were deeply influenced by Tamora Pierce’s writing. Two of them I became friends with because we bonded over our shared love for her books (another way she changed my life!)
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Alanna when I grew up. Now, I think I want to “grow up” to be Tamora Pierce, at least as a writer.
The world needs stories like Alanna’s, and Pierce’s other books. We need stories that tell girls they’re as good as boys, that they can be strong and make a difference, that they don’t have to stay with their pushy boyfriend, that they can be themselves, whoever that is, and that they can achieve their dreams and do great things. Boys need to hear some of that too, and Tamora Pierce’s books provide excellent role models of both genders.
To quote Pierce again: “It’s not just children who need heroes.”
We all need heroes who will inspire us to become heroes. That may be the ultimate magic of Pierce’s books—she didn’t just tell me about a heroic girl. She told me I could be one too.
We all can be—and we can help other girls achieve their goals too. In one of her later adventures, Alanna joined a desert tribe, took two girls under her wing and helped them gain acceptance and respect—and learned from them too. We can all help someone, a relative, a friend, or a stranger thousands of miles away. Thanks to our increasingly global world, we can find opportunities to help all over the world. We can send a girl to college, help a woman start a business, or volunteer with women in the developing world.
Or we can find a way to inspire someone else. Has there been an Alanna or a Tamora Pierce in your life? Have you gone on to help someone else? I’d love to hear your story!
Cheryl Mahoney is a writer for Tales of the Marvelous, sharing book reviews and reflections on writing. She has reviewed more than fifteen books by Tamora Pierce, and many others about strong and inspiring girls. She is the Senior Marketing Associate at UniversalGiving and a managing writer for PhilanthroPost.