Saviors and Stereotypes

I don’t have anything against “Twilight.” OK, yeah, I do. I have a lot against “Twilight.” It’s not just the awful grammar, one-dimensional characters and trite dialogue, but the fact that Bella mostly seems to sit around crying and waiting for some guy to save her from violent situations as an abject gesture of love to give meaning to her life. Gross.

Back when these books became popular, my friend told me to read them before I judged them. So I did. And I regret it to this day. Except for the fact that I can now judge freely, so there’s that. Huzzah.

I realize that it can be enjoyable to read a book where a young man sweeps a young lady off her feet and makes everything better; I get that. I really do. I’ve never read a hardcore romance novel, but I’m sure that’s what they do in those books (among other things).

But since “Twilight” exploded all over bookstores like a burst appendix, the young adult sections have become clad in moody black covers with white rose petals and blood-red lips. The name of those sections have sometimes morphed into teen lit and, on occasion – to my everlasting horror – paranormal romance.

(If you’ve ever seen excellent writers like John Green and Markus Zusak in a paranormal romance section simply because they write YA books, you’d be horrified, too. You might even weep a little).

The ageless adventure and love plot between a young lady and a young gentlemen is being repeatedly rehashed in a lot of teen books like “Twilight” without any originality or substance. The fact, though, is that the young lady doesn’t have to be a helpless idiot for these popular plots to work.

So when I’m asked what young adult author I would recommend for a teen or adult that loves a little fantasy and a little romance, I often suggest Tamora Pierce.

In Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” series, Alanna secretly switches places with her brother to pursue her dream of becoming a knight. In the “Immortals” series, Daine finds out she has a knack for magic, not just hunting, archery and horses. In the “Beka Cooper” series, we follow a young lady as she trains to be a member of the Provost’s Guard, a type of police officer who keeps the peace in city streets and tracks down criminals.

Almost all of Pierce’s books feature strong female characters who are pursuing their own goals in life. Sure, these young ladies engage in romance at one point or another, but they do it while still being independent, intelligent women with their own values and aspirations. And if they end up with a guy, it’s because they fell in love with someone who is their partner, not their savior.

Pierce’s books are refreshing adventures that will make a female want to kick off those petticoats and run around in pantaloons like a self-governing, forthright modern woman.

And the best part is, these books won’t make you hit your head against the wall, weeping for our future generations of young women. Not even once.

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Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce, in case you haven’t read her books, is a great young adult author. Her books are intelligent, fun and empowering. I read her books when I was in junior high and I often re-read them for fun when the mood strikes me. I still enjoy them as much as I did then, which says a lot.

Her main characters are usually strong independent young women who are trying to follow their own path, often a path that society has not yet allowed them to take. In the Alanna series a young girl disguises herself as a boy for years to become a knight. In the Beka Cooper series, a young lady becomes a type of policemen (they are called dogs) through hard work and sheer determination. In the Immortals series, a young lady runs from the town that tries to kill her for her magic and learns to use it to help others.

Pierce’s young ladies are always refreshing. They have minds, skills and they do their best to use them to reach their goals. Her heroines, when compared to those in a lot of current YA literature, are full of depth, independence and humor. They are someone young women could actually look up too. They don’t wait around for a man to save them or fix their lives. They damn well do it themselves and the men can catch up later.. IF they able too. Not that Pierce doesn’t write about men, there are lots of men, good and bad, in these stories. The men are also full well-rounded characters that add to the charm of her books. Its just always so delightful to read a young adult book where girls think and act for themselves. In the current trend of vampire teen angst romances, I believe Pierce’s young ladies would stake the damn vampire and then go to college to get their degree.

In Tortall and Other Lands, we revisit with old friends and discover new ones. One story is narrated by Daine’s dragonling, Kitten from The Immortal’s series. Kitten discovers a woman living on the edge of society, abused by those in town for her magic and tries to help her. In another story, we see the effects of when Numair is forced to turn a man into a tree. Across the world, a tree is turned into a man and must learn to live like one. In the Student of Ostriches, a young girl learns to fight by watching how animals defend themselves. She learns to kick like ostriches and head butt like giraffes. When her sister is threatened, she defends her and by doing so figures out what she wants to do with her own life, become a Shang warrior. These stories and more make up this first series of short stories by Pierce.

Although this book is not as engrossing as Pierce’s usual writing, it is still an enjoyable collection to read. If you’ve never read her books before I’d suggest starting with the Alanna series which has always been a favorite of mine (and if you look at reviews, the rest of the world agrees.)

This book of short stories is definitely a good introduction to Tortall and to Pierce herself, but it is also a nice stopover for dedicated fans to read while waiting for something more.