Susan Sarnio, the main protagonist in The Scythe Wielder's Secret, is 13 years old at the start of the trilogy. While favorable reviews continue to pour in, one of the largest comments received repeatedly on the series is that Susan is too mature, and that she acts older than a typical 13-year-old.
The book tackles issues of sexism, and yet is sexism appearing now in the bias of some readers and reviewers?
Girl hero vs Boy hero?
The novels have been compared most frequently, by far, to the Harry Potter books. I wrote School of Deaths while studying at Oxford, the inspiration for (and filming location for) Hogwarts. There are a number of admitted similarities about Susan's situation to Harry's, since they both follow the same general archetype, which is the fish-out-of-water character (think Alice arriving in Wonderland) brought from our world, and enrolled in a fantasy school. Both characters make friends, and overcome bullying and other obstacles to succeed in their schools.
Harry Potter, at the beginning of his series, turns 11 years old. Percy Jackson, in The Lightning Thief, is 12. Ender, in Ender's Game, is actually 6 years old! All act mature, and attack their situations much as any young adult would do, and yet I've never seen those series critized for starting their characters too young. Is it possible that as a culture, we're fine with young boys taking leadership roles, but expect our young women to be older before they act mature? Katniss is 16 in The Hunger Games, Tris is 16 in Divergent, and Bella is 17 in Twilight. Celaena in the Throne of Glass books is 18. Why are so few female heroes in genre novels younger?
Most Girls Actually Mature Before Boys
As a teacher, especially when I taught in middle school, several trends were readily apparent. Despite the overwhelming push in fiction to show older girls and younger boys, in reality, girls tend to mature first. An article in Psychology Today concluded that brain connections actually optimize and develop more quickly in most girls than in boys. Scientists at Newcastle University published a similar study, citing that girls' brains begin to mature at age ten, while many male brains do not finish development until age 20.
In her youtube review, Sasha Alsberg of A Book Utopia said "I know when I was 13, all I cared about was boys and doing my makeup," and she said it was not realistic for a girl Susan's age to act so mature. However, countless examples in the real world have shown us women can be true leaders at that age or younger. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Peace Price winner, and a true hero and leader. She started blogging against sexism and oppression when she was 11, and had a documentary about her life filmed when she was only 13.
Of course Malala is an example of someone who has gone above and beyond normal behavior. There are everyday young women whose actions prove that girls can be leaders. This past February, the Today Show interviewed Rowan Hansen, pictured above, age 11. (Click the image for the full interview/video/article). Hansen gained national attention when she wrote to DC Comics, demanding more female superheroes. My favorite quote from her is the following:
"If Batman gets to wear armor, then why doesn't Wonder Woman get to wear armor? And I know that she's kind of invulnerable, but it would still be nicer if she didn't wear a bathing suit all the time." - Rowan Hansen, 11
DC Comics responded that they are working on the issue, with a Wonder Woman movie due out in 2017, and the now popular new TV show Supergirl.
And yet, even these efforts still only focus on older female heroes. Supergirl is 24. She's a hero, but she's still in a skirt. Most female superheroes wear revealing outfits that are often fairly impractical to fighting crime. Isn't it time for an actual female hero who's only 13? Wouldn't it be great to have a female hero who fights sexism instead of embodying continued gender perceptions? Why are the real-life heroes like Malala and Rowan younger than their fictional counterparts? I make no apologies for Suzie's age in The Scythe Wielder's Secret, and hope instead that this starts a new trend. I know I'd love to see younger heroes who are also great female role models.