The film adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s contemporary classic Before I Fall hits theaters today, with a buzzy script by Maria Maggenti and a killer cast including Zoey Deutch (star of another YA fave, Vampire Academy).
One of the reasons Before I Fall has stayed on so many reading lists since hitting shelves in 2010 is that it’s sadly rare to find a YA novel that places its emphasis first and foremost on female friendships. Not that Before I Fall is without romance, but the relationships that linger after reading, for me at least, were the tricky, funny, fraught, all-out loving friendships between Sam and her friends. So, to celebrate the movie’s release, here are some other great YA books that explore, and celebrate, friendship among women.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares
Four best friends, about to be separated for the summer, find a pair of jeans that magically fits them all. They make a pack to mail the pants to each other over the summer, and keep a record of their adventures while wearing them. Despite the physical separation of the girls for the majority of the book, it’s still a story about friendship and the strength that it gives you. When the girls are struggling, they think of each other for guidance. When they are lost, they use each other to find themselves again.
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
While this book is ostensibly about a boy, about teenager Georgia Nicolson’s quest to make sexy Robbie fall in love with her, its true focus is on Georgia and her friends as they observe boykind and try to figure out what the hell is going on over there. Robbie may make occasional appearances, along with Dave the Laugh and a precocious young makeout coach, but what makes the book so riotously funny and wonderful is Georgia and her friends.
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
This may be a little bit of a cheat, since the primary friendship of the book is between sisters, but anyone with a sister-friend (myself included) knows those friendships can be some of the most important, while also being the most frustrating and complicated. When Cath goes to college with her twin sister, Wren, she assumes things will continue on the way they always did, with the two working together on epic fanfiction of their favorite fantasy series. But when Wren begins to separate, falling in with friends and behaviors Cath doesn’t approve of, Cath has to figure out how to make new friends on her own. It’s a new reality, and she has always done better with fantasy.
Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy
Being a fat woman in America is tough, but Willowdean Dickson is up to the challenge. Will is tough, fun, and social, and generally comfortable with being herself, and she always has backup with her best friend, Ellen, by her side. But when Ellen decides to enter the local beauty pageant, a pageant run by Will’s mother, no less, it hurts Will in a way she can’t quite express. And when Will decides to also compete, and Ellen isn’t as supportive as she could be, their friendship is further stressed. Dumplin’ is delightful in many ways, especially for a Dolly Parton fan like myself, but one of the things I appreciated the most was the depiction of the tensions that can develop in a friendship when one friend is unfairly valued by society in ways the other is not.
Paperback $9.99 | $10.99
A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray
Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty is a delightfully gothic, complex, feminist novel about a group of girls who escape their corset lacings when they discover a magical netherworld. While at first it seems like the story is going to become a fantasy version of Mean Girls, Gemma Doyle, the heroine, eventually befriends those mean girls, and the story becomes one of women’s limited options under a suffocating patriarchy. The book captures the complicated dynamics of friendship, when you can love and hate and fear and trust someone all at the same time. It shows how our society is set up to pit female friends against each other, and argues that refusing to conform to that, and forming fierce, wild, close friendships, is one of the most radical, subversive, magical, badass things we can do. I totally agree.
Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes
For a book written by a dude, this poignant, funny graphic novel sure gets it. The story follows best friends Enid and Becky through the summer after high school graduation, as they first continue on as normal, and then slowly drift apart. The book, more than almost anything else I’ve ever read, captures exactly how excruciating that kind of drift can be, how it can feel like a betrayal and a death all at once.