Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top Ten girl friendships

Last week I found this great post on girl friendships in young adult books, by Jessica Spotswood, author of the Cahill Chronicles (which has now been added to my TBR list).

 I'll just jump into her great summary first, then share a list of books (sadly, too short of list) that feature strong girl friendships.
It strikes me, though, that the most common girl friendships in YA are sort of token friendships - the best girl friends who recede into the background once the heroine meets the right guy. This is one of my literary pet peeves, possibly because it rings so true to my own high school experience. I was the single girl amidst lots of couples, with girl friends who only made time for me when they needed relationship advice or consolation after breakups. It made me realize early on how often we idealize romantic relationships and focus on them to the exclusion of all else, and it gave me an early feminist horror for making a boy the be-all and end-all of one's life. I know firsthand that that dynamic is super realistic - but I don't think it's emotionally healthy or ideal, and too often it seems to go unquestioned within the text. If most other girls are either rivals or placeholders until our heroines meet the boys of their dreams - what is that saying? 
Jessica's observations about token friendships rang so true to me. When I scanned my virtual shelves, I wished I could have found more YA books that featured a strong female main character who had more than a token girl friendship. A girl friendship that actually meant something to the plot or a secondary girl that was also given her own character arc.  I found EVEN LESS strong friendships in the adult realm (though granted I don't read much outside of YA/MG these days).

I was so lucky, so incredibly blessed, to have a real honest to goodness BFF in high school. Our relationship had its ups and downs, to be sure (someday I'm going to write a story about us), but she was never a token friend, a frenemy, or a filler friend for in-between boyfriend moments. She was the real thing (and she still is, despite 2000 miles between us).


I don't think many girls keep friends like this after their tween years, or maybe it's just not reflected in literature because the boy relationships take the spotlight. I want to see more complex, plot-related friendships in stories. More like these:

1. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. An amazing, complicated friendship set in WWII in England and France. Queenie and Maddie are amazing girls. One flies planes in the war (true story! Loved to discover more about the little known female WWII pilots) and one was a spy (again, I had never heard of female spies in WWII before). Their friendship is just as dramatic as their individual roles.

2. Parallel, by Lauren Miller. Abby and Caitlin are the real core of this story, even though there are two well written love-interest storylines here, too. The two BFFs have a major falling out with plot implications and developments.

3. Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers. This book is set in the 1500's at a convent (a very unusual, scary sort of convent), and establishes the friendship, loyalties and tensions between three girls at the convent. The friendship aspect fades out as the story progresses (my only complaint) and isn't resurrected as much as I hoped in the sequel, but it definitely gave me a taste of what I crave.

4. Like Mandarin, by Kirsten Hubbard. This one is a really complicated girl friendship: one girl is older and world-wise and the other is young and naive and a bit star struck when the older girl singles her out for a friend. There's some bad influence going on here, but that's not the main gist of this story. Its an honest look at two very different girls with very different issues who learn from each other.

5. The Latte Rebellion, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson. The friendship of Asha and Carey reminded me a lot of me and my high school friend, and while this particular friendship faded as the priorities of the girls changed, it was for different reasons than the cliche intrusion of a boy. The excellent part of this book too is that the change in the relationship is pivotal to Asha instead of just being a "given".

6. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell.  Not nearly as strong an example as the other books listed above, but I was pleasantly surprised; what I first thought would be a token conflict between Cath and her college roommate Reagan turned into an unlikely friendship that tied into the plot.

7. Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater. Another not-quite-strong enough example, but Isabel is a case of a token girl character (and an unlikeable snotty one at that) who surprised me by developing into a very strong and vital counterpoint to Grace's character... a "reluctant ally because I have to be" role that eventually develops into a real friendship.

8. Vampire Academy, Richelle Mead. The interesting bond and friendship between Rose and Lissa was the highlight of this book to me. Jessica Spotswood sums it up well: "here are elements of jealousy, of negotiating boundaries (especially since she has a psychic bond with Lissa), of figuring out how to define herself away from the friendship"

9. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor.  Many supporting cast girls in YA books are great characters, vibrant and memorable, but they just don't get to play into the plot enough. Zuzana is exactly one of these, a character who should have had a larger role alongside Karou. But she's still definitely more than a token friend and her role is not insignificant in the sequel. Curious to see how much of a role she gets in the third book coming out soon.

10. I haven't read this one yet, but I want to: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Anne Brashares; I think it's a good candidate for the strong girl friendship category.

I'm also going to mention these books, even though they didn't have strong enough girl friendships for me to remember, their settings would have been a perfect springboard for interesting girl friendship dynamics. Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer, explores werewolf pack dynamics, and had potential to develop interesting friendship dynamics between pack members. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Gemma Doyle is about a clique of girls at a Victorian boarding school with gothic flavor. So much potential but the story just didn't clique with me, no pun intended.

At first, in middle grade stories, all I could think of was girl-boy friendships such as Hermione/Harry/Ron and Percy/Annabeth/Grover, but thank you to Laura Marcella for reminding me of Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables.

In the non-kidlit world, my two favorite friendship books are The Help (the unlikely friendships in the 1960's of two black maids, Minnie and Aibileen with two very different white women, Skeeter and Celia), and Talk Before Sleep, an absolutely beautiful, heart-wrenching portrait of the friendships of women, one of whom is dying of cancer.


 And yes it's a movie, but how can I not mention Thelma and Louise?




What's your favorite girl friendship book? I seriously want to add to my list.


24 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry from the Anne of Green Gables series! A girl friendship in MG that I like is Salamanca Hiddle and Phoebe Winterbottom from Walk Two Moons. Also Harriet and Janie from Harriet the Spy by Louis Fitzhugh.

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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    1. Anne and Diana of course! Can't believe I forgot that one! Those other two books I haven't read but have certainly heard of, adding them to my list.

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    2. I just remembered another good MG one: Sara Crewe and Becky, Ermengarde, and Lottie in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I love the film adaptation too.

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  3. I hadn't thought about it, but this rings really true for me too. I've read some of the books on your list and agree that they do spotlight friendships between girls more.

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  4. Intersting topic, and one I hadn't considered much, as sad as that sounds. I enjoy a book for its story and sometimes don't look at the other issues it's presenting (or not presenting). A middle grade I read recently that has strong girl friends is THE GIRL FROM FELONY BAY (and it was written by a guy!).

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    1. I have a devil of a time trying to remember MG books with strong female friendships... have finally (with help) remembered a few. Thank you for sharing this one.

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  5. Awesome topic. You're right that the BFF is often shoved to the sidelines in YA, and it bothers me a little. It's a general hazard of the romance genre that the love interest takes the spotlight. Along with Anne and Diana, I also loved the friendship of Emily and Ilse in the Emily of New Moon series (also L.M. Montgomery). Nina LaCour's Hold Still largely focuses on the loss of a BFF to suicide, and coming to terms with that particular kind of grief.

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    1. Oh man, I can only imagine the feelings of guilt and helplessness that would go with a BFF committing suicide.

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  6. Love this topic! I guess I never thought much about the girl friendship thing in novels, but what you say is true about the token friend thing. Kind of sad when you think about it. I've heard a lot about Code Name Verity and have added it to my TBR list. Great list overall!

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    1. Code Name Verity isn't an easy read - it's a strange point of view and, of course, it has Nazis. But it's worth it. Thank you for commenting.

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  7. Loved this post! You're right about girl friendships being downplayed. I see in MG that it's often because there's a boy-girl friendship and in YA, it's romance. A couple of MG that I've read recently with girl friendships: A Year of the Book (Andrea Cheng) and Second Fiddle: Or How to Tell a Sausage from a Blackbird (Siobhan Parkinson). Both of these portrayed the ups and downs of girl friendships really well. There's also the classic Betsy-Tacy-Tib books, which I devoured as a kid.

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    1. Am suddenly reminded, thanks to your list, of Nancy Drew and her two friends, who always got more page time than boyfriend Ned. Loved that!

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  8. Great post! I'd never really thought about the dynamics of the girl characters in YA books. I can see how the friendships do reflect a sense of "reality", especially when I look back on my own high school experience, but it is true. Why aren't there more books that focus on that bond between two girls that remains constant without the influence of "some guy" who will probably break one of the characters heart anyways. I think you need to write that one!!

    I don't have any books to add to the list, but I did love "The Help".

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    1. I suppose it is reality that most girls let their friendship slip when a romantic interest comes into the picture; but it would be great for more books that show it is possible to keep important friendships strong. Thank you!

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  9. My goodness, I think you nailed my top picks. I just got done with Jessica Rules the Dark Side, and that had a pretty strong friendship in it. I loved the sister friendship in The Selection. And a little shameless plug, I especially loved the relationship between Alexia and Sarah in Moonless. ;)

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    1. I love sister friendships too. Moonless is on my list!

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  10. Agh I'm so upset! My mom's computer seems to be eating all my comments :( I left a rather long one, but I will sum it up quickly because I'm afraid this won't post either and because I'm tired haha
    1. I love this! Girl friendships are really, really important to me in my books
    2. All These Things I've Done (Birthright Trilogy) - Gabrielle Zevin
    3. Unspoken (The Lynburg Legacy) - Sarah Rees Brennan (If you read nothing else this year, PLEASE read this book!! It's so amazing for so many reasons, and the friendships (plural!!) are amazing in this book)
    4. The Year of Secret Assignments - Jaclyn Moriarty (super fun book, technically the second in a series but works as a standalone)

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    1. I hate it when I lose my comments but THANK YOU for retyping. I will definitely read Unspoken; I've been meaning to try Sara Rees Brennan.

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  11. Lynne Ewing--my favorite author--is great at focusing on friendships in many of her books. My personal favorite is her Daughters of the Moon series. Friendship is first and foremost throughout all thirteen of those books, even when romantic plots pop up!

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    1. A new author to me! Will check her books out. Thanks for the suggestion

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  12. Interesting list! I too was blessed to have some great BFF's both in HS and college who stayed close friends even when they started dating a boy. I keep in touch with all of the them, and I feel pretty lucky to have had such great friends.

    As for books, the first one I thought of was Pivot Point by Kasie West. The book is a romance, so a lot of the focus is on that, but the friendship is a key part of the story. In fact, it's the real plot, and I loved that. The story wasn't about the guy. It was about the friend.

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    1. You know I thought of Pivot Point and then dismissed it, but it's all coming back to me now!!! Thank you for reminding me!

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  13. Some of my favorite female friendships are actually among the ensemble casts of the larger fantasy series. I love how their friendships stay strong and distinct even amid all the other "team" relationships that develop.

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