Life Lessons from Tamora Pierce's Books

I don’t know about you guys, but my pre-teen years were full of awkward encounters, sweaty palms, and not knowing who the hell I wanted to be. Was I always going to be a super-shy dork with my nose stuck in a book? Was I going to pretend I didn’t care about school and try to fit in with the kids who ditched homework for football games? Was I going to spiral out from the anxiety I felt about deciding between the two? Did any of it even matter?? Yes, even at twelve, my life was chock-full of these existential-esque thoughts. And then I found Alanna: The First Adventure from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet and everything changed. Suddenly here was someone who was my age, experiencing the same kind of identity-crisis, and she decided to take charge of her life and be who she wanted to be. It didn’t matter that what she wanted to be was a knight, and the medieval sort of society she lived in forbade warrior maidens. She disguised herself as a boy and did it anyway. There is one word that completely sums up Alanna: badass.

Even better was that there were countless other books by Pierce that all dealt with girls discovering themselves, so Alanna wasn’t my only role model. Daine from The Immortals; Sandry, Daja and Tris from The Circle of Magic; Keladry from Protector of the Small; and all the other kickass heroines she sprinkled through her stories. These characters were all crazy different from each other, with individual goals and unique challenges they had to overcome. But one thing united them: they were girls, and they didn’t let anything stop them. Here were awesome ladies who didn’t quite know who they were, but they didn’t let social pressures affect their budding selves. They proved to me that it was okay to go for what you wanted, and to fight back if people tried to stop you or put you down.

I would’ve been a very different person without these books. Less confident, less outgoing, and less kickass. There’s a reason why my fifth-grade teacher told my parents, “Katy is really coming out of her shell this year.” Well, yeah. I had fictional role models who showed me how to pry open that sucker and get out. Here are some of the other life lessons imparted by these great books.

Doing something “like a girl” is awesome, and in no way weak.
This is pretty much the bread-and-butter rule of all Pierce’s books – girls are the shit. My fave hero, as I said, is Alanna, who trains as a knight. And I am talking sword-wielding, knife-throwing, horse-riding knight. It takes a determination and work ethic that I still dream of, but she turns out to be the best knight of her time, “even though” she’s a girl. Whenever I felt like I couldn’t do something because it was a boy thing, I always asked myself: What would Alanna do? Answer: do it better.

It doesn’t matter where you come from – you have the power to change your life.
Daine is a girl from some backcountry hole in an icy nowhere-land whose village tries to kill her because they think she’s crazy. Turns out she has wild magic, which is a very rare skill, and she uses it to help her run away to find better, non-murdering people. They help her cultivate her magic, making her super powerful in her own right. So even if you’re surrounded by ignorant and prejudiced people as a kid – it doesn’t matter. You have the power to leave them all behind and be yourself. In your face, village-jerks.

Friendship is a powerful thing.
Sandry, Daja, and Tris (and Briar, though he’s a boy) are all kind of lost – their communities have rejected them and they don’t know what to do with their lives. Through twists of fate, they all end up at the Winding Circle Temple, to train their unusual types of magic. And while magic is great and all (I would like some, please), it’s really the friendship that these four forge that makes them stronger. They become each other’s community, even when they do stupid things that piss everyone off. And that community gives them love, support, and understanding, which is something that absolutely every teenager needs. What I really took away from this was don’t take your friends for granted, because they are the ones you need the most.

You don’t always know how to feel – and that’s okay.
Alanna had a confusing love life, what with disguising herself as a boy and all. First there’s that scene (you know what I’m talking about) with Jonathan, and the whole romantic drama that is their lives. Then there’s George, who’s been her best friend for so long and really takes care of her, but can’t go adventuring with her. Plus there’s the overriding feeling that Alanna never wants to marry or have kids because she thinks she’d have to give up being a wandering knight. SO MANY FEELS. And it’s okay. People have the feels, and you can work through it. Alanna eventually sorted it out, and if she has time for that while fighting magical-ape-gods, then you will too.

Don’t lie about the important stuff. Most of the time.
Okay, so Alanna technically lied about her sex for several years, but that was because it was the only way for her to be a knight. I’m thinking more about when Daine pretended that she couldn’t meditate because she was afraid of losing herself to the animals. Once Numair knew what the problem was, he could fix it super easily, which in turn helped Daine’s power grow. It ended up completely changing her life, teaching me that lying about major things is a no-no. Unless it’s to make the world a better place…

Unjust rules don’t have to be followed.
This makes me think of high-and-mighty things, like Thomas Jefferson saying it’s a person’s duty to overthrow a corrupt government (or something like that). But it really hits home with Alanna’s story. And has a lot of spooky parallels with our world, too. Girls being barred from doing things just because of their sex is ridiculous, and Alanna proves that. Her actions change her world, and soon girls are allowed to train as knights.

Sometimes you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
This ties in with the whole not-lying thing. If Daine had asked for help, she wouldn’t have needed to hide things from her friends. (Okay, I get that she didn’t really trust people much after her village tried to kill her, but still.) Later she learns from this, and tries to elicit help from whales to aid her friends in battle. They say no, but she does end up getting the attention of a kraken. Yes, a kraken. He then dispatches the enemy’s boats and saves dozens of lives. Which just goes to show that help can come from the darndest places.

The great stuff is always worth fighting for.
I don’t even mean this in the strictly physical way, though sometimes that’s necessary.  Again, this is a motif in lots of Pierce’s books, but I think Alanna and Keladry embody it best. Keladry is the first girl who trains as a knight after Alanna’s actions led to it being made legal. But oh man does Kel have to put up with a whole bunch of crap that Alanna didn’t have to. Now people can be sexist outright and to Kel’s face! Alanna may have had to prove to herself that she was better than the boys, but Kel has to prove it to herself and to everyone else. But she doesn’t give up. She becomes the first person to openly become a female knight, and it’s totally worth it. Which makes me want to say: Never give up; never surrender.

Being true to who you are is the best thing you can do.
All of Pierce’s characters prove this, because at some point they all consider giving up. Life is hard. Being a girl is hard when you live in a world that’s full of demeaning, patriarchal jerks. But these ladies figuratively pull up their britches (cause some of them wear skirts) and get on with it. They know they won’t be satisfied taking on a role that relegates them to a second-class kind of life. Alanna says no to being a noble lady; Daine says no to being helpless; Sandry, Tris, and Daja say no to an outcast’s life; and Kel says no to all the haters who try to get her to quit. Deep down they’re fighting to be the people they want to be. Sometimes it sucks, but it most definitely makes up for it when you feel true to yourself. And everytime I forgot that, or wanted to take the easy way out, I remembered them and what they would do. Punch negativity in the face.

This is Katy’s first blog post on the Book Wars! She’s super excited to be a part of this awesome team. You can read more about her life of transatlantcism and children’s literature on her blog, A Penchant for Penning. And keep reading Book Wars, where she’ll show up again!

  • I sort of went off Pierce’s books when out of the blue she had Daine end up with Numair. Yeah, sixteen year old girl and her thirty something year old teacher. That’s not at all creepy.

    • KD

      Oh, see, I always liked Numair, and was okay with that happening…I think it was pretty much down to the line about Daine rubbing her nose in the hair that poked out over his shirt…which I know sounds weird, but I thought was really sweet/sensual. But I can definitely see where you’re coming from.

      • I always remember that line/scene and it’s been years since I read Daine’s books through – glad to know someone else has the same attachment to it!

    • You need to remember when the book was supposed to be based, coolcurrybooks. In those times, men waited to get married until they were settled and could afford to take care of a wife. Women, on the other hand, were handed over to husbands as soon as the family could because they were seen as a drain on resources and were expected to marry soon and have lots of children for their husband. This is a thing not acceptable now but quite accepted back then.

  • Janet

    Your description of Daine’s hometown (“some backcountry hole in an icy nowhere-land”) had me grinning. Thanks for the post, Katy!

  • Thanks for sharing! I’m excited to go read all these books now!

  • Great post!! Literary characters can make SUCH a difference growing up!

    I only read a couple of these and a bit too late which annoyed me as they look awesome! Have been trying to get a hold of them though it is perhaps far too late now…

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  • LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I discovered Tamora Pierce’s books in middle school, and they got me hooked on reading in general and fantasy. It’s been over 10 years since I first found them, but I still try to reread a few of them every year.

  • LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I discovered Tamora Pierce books when I was in middle school and they got me hooked on reading in general and fantasy. It’s been around 10 years since I found them, but I still try to reread a few every year. Nice to “meet” a fellow fan and look forward to reading more posts from you!