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Intro

In A Nutshell

She's the Man. As You Like It. Mulan. Put a girl in pants and cross-dressing hilarity ensures. Right?

Sometimes. And sometimes, what ensues is more like … subterfuge and lies.

Take Alanna: The First Adventure. Alanna of Trebond is a noble-born girl in the fantasy kingdom Tortall. Noble-born: pretty cool. Not so cool: desperately wanting to train to be a warrior instead of learning to be a polite wife-to-be. (Yeah, we're down with that.) Luckily for her, her identical twin brother Thom is just as pissy about being sent off to warrior training, so they forge some letters and switch places. (No, he's not jealous of Alanna's wife-to-be training—we wants to go to the convent where Alanna's headed, where they'll train him to be a sorcerer.)

Presto-chango, Alanna becomes "Alan" and heads off to the castle … where she immediately gets picked on, teased, and majorly hazed by the castle's resident mean boys. Only Alanna's dedication to her training—and loyalty to her friends—help her keep her head above water while she navigates the stormy seas of royal intrigue. (Okay, enough with the watery language.)

Does this sound like the best thing since Harry Potter? Back up about fifteen years, and you'd be right. Alanna: The First Adventure was published in 1983, translated into a bunch of languages, and then followed by three more books. Author Tamora Pierce won multiple awards, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement.

And you know we really like? It's a Young Adult fantasy novel without a love triangle in sight. Man, the '80s really were better.

 

Why Should I Care?

Take Mean Girls.

Set it at a castle.

Make them boys.

Give them swords.

Yeah, this is going to go great. Bullies administering beatings? Check. Hazings? Check. Being punished by authority figures? Check. Alanna has it all. But with magic! And mysterious omens, and horses, and stuff.

Even if you're not keen to relive those awkward middleschool years, Alanna tells the story of a kid who wants nothing more than to be accepted and loved for who she is, and that's something we can all relate to. But at the same time Alanna is just trying to fit in, she has to conceal a core part of her identity—a part that could be really dangerous to conceal. Imagine if you found out that your best guy friend was actually—gasp—a girl, or the other way around. You'd be hurt, betrayed, a little (or a lot) wielded out, right?

Now imagine if you had a sword.

In other words, Alanna is risking serious physical and emotional harm with her disguise. Throughout the whole book, she's completely stressed out about having to deceive her friends—and yet she rises above that fear and pain to prove her loyalty to her friends and her country. Girls rule.

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