Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Alanna is a girl who pretends to be a boy (“Alan”) in order to be trained to be a knight. She also has some magical powers which are not explained very well, but that allow her to do some cool stuff and win just in time. She learns, makes friends and has a few adventures: finding a magic sword in an acient cave, healing the crown prince, killing some “immortal” demons. And at the end, she’s chosen to be the prince’s squire, even though he learns she’s a girl, because regardless of her sex she’s the best of all the pages, and has saved his life twice.
It’s a children’s book, so it moves very quickly. It’s probably too simple for readers much older than 12 to get much out of, but for a little girl this would be a very fun and empowering book to read. When Alanna starts her period, there is a scene that reminded me of My Girl and Judy Blume books, only translated to fantasy instead of in a contemporary setting. That tells you a little about the era this book comes from and the demographic it’s going for. I’ve always thought that including issues like that is a good way to teach girls about growing up. This would have been exactly the kind of thing I would have liked as a kid, so I don’t know how I missed it.
It’s the first of a series, so I’ll pick up the later books. They’re such quick reads that there is virtually no opportunity cost, despite the simplicity. I predict some love interests will be coming up. There are two, maybe three potentials. In this novel the characters seem too young, so the friendships are purely platonic. I wonder if Alanna will eventually have to make any choices between her desire to be a knight and her love for a man, and/or between two men. I hope those choices are as strong and empowering as this book seems to promise they will be.