As much as I love both friendship novels and romances where two people seem to be each other’s everything, there’s just something about groups and gangs going through life, love, and danger together that rings all my bells. Whether it’s a fantasy group on a quest a la Melinda Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock or just friends who find their happiness and salvation in hanging out together, as in Emery Lord’sThe Names They Gave Us, it makes my heart sing to think of characters finding Their People. To that end, here are some of the best new friend groups from recent and upcoming YA.
The Resolutions, by Mia Garcia
Garcia’s sophomore is a warm hug of a novel starring four best friends named Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora who go through everything together. As senior year looms, Jess worries that the group is drifting too far apart, so she changes up their usual New Year’s Eve resolutions tradition by having them make resolutions for each other instead of themselves. Pulling each other out of their comfort zones has differing results, but it’s definitely a year none of them will forget. My favorite part of this book (well, beyond the f/f romance and racial diversity and delicious food descriptions) are the friends’ chat messages that show not only a variety of well-done voices but a comfort level in their friendship that lets you know they’ll be there for one another through everything.
The Disasters, by MK England
Where do you turn when you’re feeling like a reject? To your fellow rejects, of course! At least that’s the case in this obscenely fun and funny sci-fi debut about four kids who’ve been tossed out of an Elite Space Academy. Narrating their adventures is Nax, who’s furious and embarrassed about his expulsion. Before he can get on his way back to Earth, a terrorist group attacks the Academy and it’s up to Nax and the other rejects to save the day. But good deeds rarely go unpunished, and in the course of a heist to spread the truth, they end up finding themselves framed and on the run, forced to work together to clear their names and spread the truth.
Famous in a Small Town, by Emma Mills
At any given moment, my favorite squad is whichever one Emma Mills has written last; she’s just that good, and her books are laugh-out-loud funny, even when they’re tugging your heartstrings, as in this newest. Sophie and her four best friends are the group in question, though there just might be room for fifth when August moves to town, especially given Sophie’s mighty attracted to him and his secretive nature. Their friendships get tested, though, when Sophie takes everyone on a journey to persuade their hometown’s lone celebrity to headline a fundraising festival that’ll send their marching band to the Rose Parade.
The Immoral Code, by Lillian Clark
There is just so much great about this book and its cast, and you’ve got to love friends teaming up to get the back of one of their own, especially if they’re putting themselves in legal danger to do it. When Bellamy’s denied financial aid from her dream school of MIT because of her deadbeat dad’s wealth, her four best friends take it upon themselves to hack his account and drain the funds she needs. But there are complicated, mixed feelings at play about the morality of their heist, and with the future coming quickly, there’s only so much time set everything right, keep their relationships intact, and keep themselves from being discovered.
Beneath the Citadel, by Destiny Soria
“Friends on a quest” is my favorite sub-sub-genre of fantasy, and as someone who’s terrible at waiting for The Next Book, I also have a major soft spot for standalones. Soria, who’s already a personal fave, lands both in her sophomore novel with a cast of four at its heart that includes fiery orphan Cassa; her ex, the amiable and magic-endowed Evander; tough girl Alys; and Newt, a boy who can squeeze himself out of tight spots, which is especially helpful since his stature always has him underestimated. They live in a world ruled by the High Council and governed by a set of “infallible prophecies” as reported by a group of elder seers, a world that saw itself ravaged by rebellion after the final prophecy. Cassa’s parents lost their lives in that fight, and now that she’s left to carry on their mission, she’s brought her friends to her aid beneath the citadel to overthrow the chancellor. It’s a dangerous quest to be sure, especially when they learn a truth they were never meant to learn…or survive.
The Weight of the Stars, by K. Ancrum
Found families are so foundational to queer literature, and Ancrum does a beautiful job with one here. Following her parents’ death, Ryann is short on biological family, living in a trailer with her brother and nephew, but there’s plenty of love to be found in her world with the friends she’s helped bring back from the brink. They’re together watching new girl Alexandria out on her roof when she falls and injures her arm, and they learn that she’s been famous since birth: her mother is an astronaut who’d volunteered for a one-way trip into space. The reason Alexandria goes out on the roof is to listen for signals from her mom, and now that she doesn’t have use of her arm, it’s up to Ryann to help her. Slowly but surely, the group that keeps Ryann steady absorbs Alexandria, too, which becomes even more necessary when she steals Ryann’s heart.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme, by Tiffany Jackson
After two incredible books that capture a profound sense of loneliness, Jackson’s third novel feels like a significant departure, despite capturing many of the same themes of who gets remembered by society at large and who’s effectively forgotten. When their best friend, Steph, is murdered, his best friends, Quadir and Jarrell, and his sister, Jasmine, refuse to let his hop-hop talent die with him. Together, they use his recordings to turn him into a star and do everything they can to score him a deal. But when the truth comes out about who killed Steph and why, they may have to choose between fame and justice.
Death Prefers Blondes, by Caleb Roehrig
Drag queens of a feather steal together in this fabulous heist novel helmed by Margo Manning, a teen socialite with thieving skills to spare. Together with her friends Leif, Davon, Axel, and Joaquin, all of whom rock heels as well as they do lock picks, they steal from rich and give to…well, themselves, but each has a backstory that requires cash, and they couldn’t pick themselves up out of their bad situations without one another. And when a job goes all the way south, working together (with some of them getting closer than others, wink wink, nudge nudge) will become a matter of life and death.