Even first love is a blip on the radar compared to the earth-shattering impact best girlfriends have on each other. At their uneasy, euphoric best, girl friendships are a barrage of coded notes and matching outfits and obsessive, sweaty-palmed love. And at their worst, those same friendships can morph into codependence, or be torn apart by bitchy whisper campaigns. In honor of tacky makeup choices and sneaking out at night and cheap liquor and secrets we’ll take to the grave, here are five terrific novels that celebrate girl on girl love.
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Lorrie Moore. An elegy for a teenage friendship that remains the most passionate relationship of narrator Berie Carr’s life, this short novel is an ode to the us vs. them mentality fostered by years of consecutive sleepovers and a secret that changes everything. An added bonus: it’s got Moore’s signature tenderness and sly wit, with enough wordplay to engage even readers super out of touch with their teenaged selves.
How Should a Person Be, Sheila Heti. Meet Sheila and Marguax. Written largely as a series of Gchat-style interviews between Sheila and her best friend, Marguax, this novel is one of the frankest and most contemporary takes on what it’s like to be a girl, a girl in serious like with another girl, that I’ve ever read. You also have to hand it to this book for doing what no other novel has done—elevating the drama of buying the same outfit as your best friend into a scene as nerve-wracking as a tightrope walk. Which, emotionally, it pretty much is.
Autobiography of Us, Aria Beth Sloss. At first glance, Autobigraphy of Us checks off a few too many boxes in the list of classic female duo tropes. Our narrator Rebecca is of course the mousy one, and of course she’s far more infatuated with the dazzling, fearless Alex than Alex is with her. But stick with Autobiography of Us for its keen rendering of the intimate lovingness of Rebecca and Alex’s friendship, and the unconventional shape that love takes as the two girls grow up. You won’t be disappointed.
Dare Me, Megan Abbott. Beth and Addy are the ringleaders of their uber-popular clique of high-school cheerleaders, and narrator Addy is bored, bored, bored. Remember that driving around town, maybe something will happen just because it’s dark oh my god I’d do anything right now just to FEEL something feeling? Read Dare Me for how it injects that nervy atmosphere back into your life, in all its adrenaline-fueled glory. And because the New York Times calls it the “Great American Cheerleader Novel.”
An Experiment in Love, Hilary Mantel. Hilary Mantel’s An Experiment in Love is a magnetic investigation of women’s bodies, with all their contradictions, potential betrayals, and, of course, limitations. It’s the 60s, and Carmel is telling the story of her first year at London University—where she matriculated alongside Karina, also from Carmel’s very blue-collar hometown. Carmel and Karina hate/love each other in the way only two people who possess each other’s secrets can. This is both a novel of the female friendship as war, and a poignant illustration of the loyalty we feel to the places we’re from.
What’s your favorite fictional celebration of friendship?