I have a young female friend who is fast becoming an avid reader of fantasy fiction. As a writer, a linguist, an English teacher, an most importantly, an avid fantasy reader myself, I believe it is my duty to introduce her to my list of All Books Young (Fantasy Loving) Women Should Read. The parenthetical is provided because most of these are fantasy novels, and some people just aren’t that interested in fantasy, though there are a few out there that are not fantasy.
Anyway, I was talking to Any, and after all I had to say was that opening sentences and she responded “Tamora Pierce!” Granted, she was primed for this response, as I told her I’ve been reading the Protector of the Small Quartet, by this author. But Tamora Pierce is the mother of contemporary girl’s fantasy fiction. Pierce started publishing in the 1980s, and thus far, she has published almost 30 novels, divided into roughly 8 series, as well as several short stories. What Pierce is best known for are her strong female protagonists, which is why Any thought of her first and why she tops my list. But there is a problem here. Tamora Pierce’s first quartet was about a young woman who wanted to be a knight, and the four books cover both her entire training and her making a name for herself as a knight. Thus the first two books each take place over four years, and though the series starts with a ten year old, it probably ends with a twenty-something. And because of this, the series, especially the later ones, cover some, ahem *adult* topics, and I worry that my friend’s parents will not want her reading the books for this reason.
Now, there are not a lot of stores out there that focus on women to begin with. Seriously, look at the books you read the TV shows you watch, examine how many women are in them. Furthermore, a lot of the women in stories exist in relationship to men. They are mothers or wives or girlfriends, and while women are all of these things, they are also more than that, but a lot of stories neglect to point this out. Even the stories that do focus on women will display them in this way–we have romance stories and women who gossip about shopping and men. While Pierce’s women talk about shopping and men, they also talk about politics, about managing money and lands, about learning and teaching important topics in the world, and thus, these “adult” topics. I put “adult” in scare quotes here because though they are often considered unsuitable for children, they are things that happen in life. They are topics middle and high schoolers are going to have to become familiar with one day or another, so Pierce decides to approach them in her novels. In short, Pierce trusts her readers, that they are mature enough to understand that these problems exist in their world, and that they are mature enough to be concerned about how to deal with these issues.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think all young women should read Tamora Pierce novels for the very reason that she more or less discusses anything and everything that a young woman will have to deal with in our society, from dealing with her period (which, quite frankly, is a subject that most books don’t deal with), to bullying, to dealing with general misogyny, to the various ways in which said misogyny manifests within society, not only for girls, but for women, and discusses all of these topics in such a way that they are accessible to both young and adult readers, which to me seems like a sign of masterful writing. Thus, Pierce’s books prepare readers for the conflicts they face on a day-to-day basis at the time they are reading, as for those conflicts they will face, in the years to come. And while I cannot begrudge my friends the right to raise their children as they see fit, I hope they recognize the importance of these books for young readers and choose not to wait until their daughter is older to let her read them.