Alanna, Tamora and Me

When I made the transition from picture books to middle grade I devoured everything in my path. Amelia Bedelia. Mrs. Piggly-Wiggly. The Egypt Game. All of the American Girl series. Most of the Babysitters Club–we’re talking twenty books at a time. I was voracious, because I was still searching for something.

When I was twelve, I found it. Tamora Pierce’s In The Hand of the Goddess, a book set in a medieval world, with royalty, magic, adventure, gender politics, and a BAMF for a heroine. I thought to myself, This is it! I knew then that there were books in the world that could be what I wanted, and I think that played a big role in my pursuing writing.

It’s sort of analogous to seeing yourself mirrored in media. When you see yourself depicted, you’re reassured that you exist, that you matter. Hand affirmed that my wants and desires existed in the world beyond my head.

For those who don’t know, Tamora Pierce is known for writing books about strong heroines. The Song of the  Lionness Quartet is about Alanna, a girl who decides at the age of ten that she wants to be a knight, not a lady, and disguises herself as a boy to do so. (Yeah, Hogwarts looks like a cakewalk now, doesn’t it?) She befriends a Prince and the King of Thieves. She battles boys bigger than her and forgotten gods. She learns to appreciate her body despite what she hates about it. The books follow her through her early twenties, experiencing love, hatred, magic, romance, danger, fear, heartbreak, and friendship. Basically it had everything I wanted omfg.

Alanna remains a member of my core head cannon, alongside Buffy the Vampire Slayer (who deserves her own post). She will forever be who I picture when people say strong female character. A lot of her strength comes from sheer stubbornness, a refusal to accept that she is somehow less capable than anyone else. Even in her darkest moments, she pushes through.

That was all in line with the Girl Power messaging of the 90s, which I absorbed a lot of, and so I had no qualms about picking up a pen and writing my own stories. I was a girl, I had heroines like Alanna, and I could do what I wanted. If I wanted to write stories, that’s what I would do. I would make more books as wonderful and amazing as Tamora’s. I was convinced I had a career as a fantasy novelist ahead of me.

Within a few years of discovering Alanna, I found Sailor Moon and the online fan community with its mountains of fanfiction. That’s where I really got started writing in earnest. Sailor Moon was BIG at that time, whereas Tamora Pierce’s books didn’t have a massive online fandom. Nowadays there’s fics and amazing fanart and fan theories like QueeringTortall, which is my new favorite thing. If I were fourteen right now I’d be in-freaking-heaven. Also less prone to drawing anime eyes. But I digress.

My point is, Tamora Pierce opened a door for me. For years I emulated aspects of her fiction, or held it as the standard to which I aspired. I still want to capture that sense of rightness I felt reading In the Hand of the Goddess for the very first time. I hope someday I’m able to do so. And that what I write will positively impact the next generation of readers, as I was impacted.

Obsessive Love in YA

V and I were having a discussion about what we call ‘obsessive love’. It often starts as instalove, but not always. It’s what happens when a character just can’t stop thinking about–and, more importantly, behaving in relation to–their love interest. Everything is about this person. They invade every thought, every scene.

I do not like obsessive love. Worse, I don’t like it for YA. Teens are already predisposed to be obsessive, they don’t need encouragement. They don’t need the message that it’s okay and romantic to be all about the lourve. It’s unrealistic for the adult world, which teens are supposed to be maturing into. </moralizing>

Anyway, as V and I were talking we bemoaned how frequent these obsessions are in YA fiction. Famous example? Twilight.

Which got me thinking about a great counter-example, Cinder by Marissa Meyer. (I know, the names make for great irony.)

Cinder is a sci fi take on Cinderella, complete with royal prince. The character Cinder is clearly attracted to him and gets rather befuddled in his presence, but she doesn’t start factoring him into everything that she does. The girl’s got bigger issues, life or death issues. Instead she plays the, “He’d never be interested in me” card, and for once it works. Her reasons are legit. Here we have a pragmatic young woman who realizes she needs to get shit done, not pine over a boy.

It’s really, really refreshing.

Here’s to the books that go beyond obsessive love.