A work of fiction must contain 1) two women, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than a man in order to pass the Bechdel Test, recently renamed the Bechdel-Wallace Test, for its creators Alison Bechdel and Liz Wallace. The test has become a basic feminist standard, but passing it in a YA romance, complete with a Happily Ever After? Not as common as you might think. Best friends don’t always play a big role outside of “boy trouble sounding board,” or perhaps those best friends aren’t girls at all. And of course there’s plenty to love in those books, too, but this time around, we’re checking out the books that don’t just pass the test but kill it, serving up some fabulous lady-bonding right alongside the romance, and, in some cases, intertwined with it.
Open Road Summer, by Emery Lord
Lord’s debut has an utterly adorable romance between main character Reagan and Matt, but the shining relationship is the tight-knit best friendship between Reagan and Dee (that’s teen country star Lilah Montgomery to you). As Reagan spends the summer accompanying Dee on her national tour, the two bond over not only guys but Dee’s career, which Reagan supports every step of the way, and which their friendship has also helped inspire. Lots of books have enviable book boyfriends, and this is no exception, but Open Road Summer ups the ante by bringing a seriously A+ book bestie to the table.
Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
Emi and her best friend, Charlotte, are spending the summer trying to make something amazing happen in LA, when they find the first clue to an engrossing mystery that also leads Emi to Ava, a beautiful actress who’s a mystery in herself. Emi and Ava are sweet and share a bond over their respective Hollywood-centric passions, but there’s also a wonderful friendship between Emi and Charlotte, inspiring in how far the latter will go to help the former find happiness. The two of them are fabulous partners in investigation and supportive of each other besides, and even though the story is primarily about Emi’s journey into falling in love with Ava, you never forget Charlotte is along for the ride.
OCD Love Story, by Corey Ann Haydu
For Bea, anxiety isn’t a minor affliction. Her obsessive-compulsive disorder bleeds into every day of her life, as well as into her relationships. Her best friend, Lisha, is well aware of Bea’s OCD, and over the course of the book, she both indulges it and questions it, stands by her friend and reveals with brutal honesty how difficult it makes both their lives. Their friendship is one of my favorites in YA, because it’s so consciously not perfect, and that’s something they actually communicate about, not just something they discuss while making up. They’re together through issues of trauma and romance and money and self-esteem and basically everything I love Haydu for acknowledging in teen girls. I don’t think this author could write a book that didn’t slay the Bechdel test if she tried.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
Lexi’s down to one parent, and the last thing she wants is for her homosexuality to wreck what she and her mom have left. Her only hope is a conversion summer camp, but instead of the “fix” she so desperately hopes for, Lexi finds herself falling hard for her bunkmate, Carolyn, resulting in some class-A flirting via The Great Gatsby. But she does connect with some other campers, and working with her counselor Kaylee, too. Plenty of female voices to be heard in this one, and it’s cool that the male ones are all on similar journeys. Plus, can I gush about that romance just one more time? Because…so cute. So cute.
Bright Before Sunrise, by Tiffany Schmidt
Brighton is super nice, super popular, super involved, and super frustrated that there’s someone in school she can’t charm into participating in a school project. Which isn’t to say that Brighton is manipulative; it’s more like negativity and apathy confound her, especially when she works so hard to bury her own sadness over her father’s death, five years earlier. She’s a refreshing YA lead, kind but firm, popular without being a jerk in an attempt to maintain an air of mystery, and though most of the book does focus on the romance between her and reluctant new boy Jonah, I love Brighton for how often she genuinely interacts with her classmates, trying to be everything to everyone without real resentment.
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, by Sarah Ockler
Elyse had a beautiful childhood growing up in Trinidad & Tobago, but when an accident takes her voice from her, she pulls away from her tight-knit family and escapes to the Oregon coast to live with her aunt and cousin. But adjusting to the new women in her life when she’d been so close with her sisters and grandmother isn’t easy, and even as her cousin, Kirby, and Kirby’s best friend, Vanessa, try to include her in their lives and community, part of Elyse resists being let into their cheerful, comfortable world and friendship. But Kirby is a strong personality too, and doesn’t let her get away with it, and watching their relationship grow as a result is just one of my favorite things about Ockler’s latest.