Gender & Identity, Books, Life

Author Tamora Pierce was the hero I didn’t know I needed

As a child, it wasn't my mother who taught me about feminism. It was Tamora Pierce.

When I was a kid I was obsessed with reading. Nothing was as interesting opening the pages of a book and becoming someone else. I could hear thoughts, talk to birds or sword fight a wizard. Whatever I wanted. It was amazing. 

I used to go to my elementary school’s library every other day and hand in my book and ask for the next one. My mother quickly learned that I burned through books just about as fast as I would burn through her wallet at a candy store. If she bought me a new book every time I finished one, we would be poor. I become great friends with the librarian. She taught me how to find what I was looking for on the shelves and how each was categorized. I remember getting a thin book handed to me while the librarian said, “you’ll like this one.”

I did. I liked it a lot.

That book was Alanna: The First Adventure and I finished it by the next morning. I then read through the entire The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. I was spellbound by her world and her stories but most of all by her characters.

Alanna was not only someone I wanted to be, but someone I already saw myself in. Strong-willed and fierce, she defied gender roles and went against the status quo. But she wasn’t one dimensional. She cared about the weak and she wanted to be loved. I hadn’t read about anyone like her.

Tamora started writing young. Like me, she was obsessed with stories and books. She grew up moving from place to place due to her poor family’s unstable situation with her siblings, one of which she based her character of Alanna. She forgot about writing for a while and went to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship for psychology. She worked summers at Women’s Centers and taught a history class on witchcraft at the Free Women’s University. She started writing stories again in her third year at University, it was only a couple years later she started sending out her manuscript for The Song of the Lioness.

Alanna clearly reflects Tamora’s upbringing. A no-name girl taking more than what she was given and holding on tight seems to be a theme in nearly all Tamora’s books but especially in Alanna. Tamora’s interest in both women’s studies and the arts shine through her characters.

Without knowing it at the time, her books were my first introduction to feminism. I read a lot of books as a kid but none stuck in my mind or had as deep an impact on who I am as Tamora Pierce’s did. They had a captivating story that kept me hooked for all four books and then for two series I immediately read after that were set in the same universe. They had characters that seemed to grow with me. That I could relate to as well as aspire to be. They were books that made a scrawny girl feel like she could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that Tamora Pierce is a hero, for me and for thousands of other girls and women.