I am shocked and dismayed by some of the reviews I have seen of this series. I began these books at age 12, and have bought them again at age 22. I am appalled that some people's views of premarital sex (which, by the way, is never depicted explicitly and has never been explicit in any of Tamora Pierce's novels) would allow them to dismiss Alanna as a role model.
First of all, Tamora Pierce does not write children's books, and has in fact stated that she writes her books for teens AND adults. She writes fantasy novels, but a good bit of their appeal is that she keeps them connected to real life. I have seen some people claim that any adult themes/undertones are the result of being modeled after medieval Europe...to that I would reply that while the society is based on old Europe, the people are just people. Does Alanna have sex? Yes. Does she experience the gamut of human emotions and sometimes make bad decisions? Yes. Alanna's appeal is that she is a person--with human failings--who sets out to achieve something great through her perseverence, faith, and staunch belief in protecting those who cannot protect themselves. She grows into a woman who is nobody's fool, refuses to allow herself be put into a "woman's role", and builds the life that she wants.
This book is going to make children have sex? In our society, teens don't need books to give them the idea to have sex. Parents providing stable support and listening to their children's lives and concerns is the only way that those children will make life choices, not their reading material. If parents believe that filtering their children's books will make them "good kids", they will filter out the best literature (Shakespeare, Austen, Grimms Fairy Tales, etc.) ever written...and in the process, remove all the heroes like Alanna (with her menstration, fears about her body, occasional self-doubts) whose lives they can relate to. If I could give this series 10 stars, I would.