"That's crazy," Thom argued. "What about your hair? You can't go swimming naked, either. And you'll turn into a girl—you know, with a chest and everything." (1.13)
Touché. As soon as Alanna starts going through puberty, it'll be pretty obvious that she's a girl. Sure, maybe she'll get lucky and remain slender. But would you want to bet against genetics? (Do they even have the concept of genetics in Tortall?)
All girls from noble families studied in convents until they were fifteen or sixteen, at which time they went to Court to find husbands. (1.46)
In Tortall, among the upper classes, a girl is considered "grown up" at fifteen or sixteen years old, and we're not talking grown up enough to get her driver's license: we're talking grown up enough to marry. This is the fate that Alanna is escaping by disguising herself as a boy. What do you think? Fate worse than death … or way preferable to trying to get yourself killed as a knight?
"Until you are fourteen, you will be a page," the Duke went on. "You will wait on the table at the evening meal…Half your day will be spent learning fighting arts. The other half you will spend with books, in the hope that we can teach you how to think." (2.7)
Wait wait wait, this growing up stuff actually requires you to think and learn? Later, we're out. (Just kidding, learning is awesome! Alanna's not put off by it, so you shouldn't be either!)
She was determined to beat Ralon—it would mean she had finally earned her place among the boys. It would mean that she could do anything larger and stronger males could. (3.148)
Alanna's coming-of-age journey is all mixed up with her gender identity. She feels inferior to her friends because she's a girl masquerading as a boy. But if she can stand up for herself and fight Ralon, she feels like she'll have proven that she deserves a place with her friends. (Spoiler alert: she does.)
The squires joined Alanna and Jonathan in what little free time they had, but Alanna missed them during the classes she had with the other pages. (4.5)
It's always a bummer when you're growing up and some of your buddies are in a different age bracket than you, and you're stuck in middle school while they head off to high school. This is basically what happens to Alanna and Jonathan when Gary, Raoul, and Alex make the transition from page to squire before their younger friends do. It's a part of growing up, but that doesn't make it fun.
Alanna watched her friend, thinking…His voice was beginning to boom and crack, too, just as Gary's and Raoul's had last year. Soon Alanna would have to start faking the voice change herself. We're all growing up, she thought, and sighed. (5.110)
In case you forgot for, like, a second, here's another reminder that Alanna's body is going develop differently than the bodies of her page and squire buddies who are all male. Will she fool anyone by faking the voice changes and cracks most young guys experience during puberty?
"You poor child," she chuckled. "Did no one ever tell you of a woman's monthly cycle? The fertility cycle?" (6.36)
Turns out Alanna didn't have basic sex education in page training. We're guessing no one gets basic sex education in Tortall, but we at least hope that moms let their daughters know how to handle their periods. If you'll recall, Alanna's mother died giving birth to her and Thom. So she's out of luck when it comes to knowing how to go with the flow (ha ha).
"I'll tell them the truth when I'm eighteen and I have my shield." She sighed. "If they hate me—well—I'll have proved I can be a knight, won't I? I'll go into the world and have adventures. They needn't ever see me again." (6.63)
Alanna's got a plan for when she comes of age as an adult and becomes a knight: she'll disappear. Wait, maybe that's not such a great plan, as George points out during this conversation. Earning her shield may be tangible proof that she's all grown up—but running away isn't exactly a mature reaction.
Jonathan […] made friends with the most dangerous thieves and murderers in the Eastern lands. He learned to pick pockets and throw dice with ease…He was seeing life very differently from the way it was seen from the palace, and he was eager to learn all he could. (6.266)
As the heir to the throne, Jonathan has a comfy life, but he's super excited to explore the capital city's underbelly. For Jonathan, coming of age means getting outside of his comfort zone and learning how the other half lives—or in some cases, doesn't live.
A week ago she would have told him to pick Geoffrey or Douglass. But she had not been to the Black City then. She had not proven to the Ysandir that a girl could be one of the worst enemies they would ever face. (7.259)
Alanna grows up over a few years at court, but the Black City definitely helps things along. Sure. Having to be at the top of your game in order to face homicidal immortals will do that to you. That little experience gives Alanna the boost she needs to tell Jonathan that he should select her as his squire, even though she's (1) small and (2) a girl.