Take 5: My Favorite Friendships
I’m often struck by how beautifully written friendships are in YA. In fact, they are often much more important and detailed than any other personal relationships – dating or family. I suppose it makes sense, since the teen years are a time when we practice separating from our family and are only just learning how to date, that our friendships wold take on primary importance.
Far and away my favorite YA friendship is the one between (capital letters) Will Grayson and Tiny Cooper in John Green and David Levithan’s co-authored Will Grayson, Will Grayson. It is beautiful and sincere and touching as well as hilarious and full of mischief. Will and Tiny are in high school but have been best friends since elementary. It’s hard to explain what is so magical about this relationship. I can only sum it up by saying “Everyone should have a friend like Tiny Cooper.” It’s funny to me that this relationship is almost exclusively portrayed in the John Green written parts of the novel, since I think of David Levithan as being the master of the teenage friendship. Not that John Green is a slacker. Anyway, read it, will you please? Then come back and tell me your favorite part.
Speaking of David Levithan, I can’t leave out his amazing Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. Dash, while described by everyone in the book who meets him as being ‘snarly,’ has a good number of close friends whose fondness for him bely his outward appearance. My favorite of his friendships is with his long-term friend Boomer. Yes, that’s a nickname, but it’s also a description of his personality. Boomer is described as being like a somewhat exciteable retriever. Always bouncing all over the place, and not quite the sharpest knife in the drawer. I love how, even though their paths have diverged widely since they became friends (to call Dash an intellectual would be putting it mildly) Dash regards his friend with the utmost warmth and respect. And you can tell that Boomer feels this deeply, though he only plays a minor role in the novel.
Hidden within the comedic genius of Sarah Rees Brennan’s trope-twisting gothic mystery, Unspoken, is one of the most beautiful, loving girl friendships I’ve ever read. Kami and Angela are almost polar opposites, drawn together by their outsider status, but kept together by their solid love and affection (and their willingness to not just put up with, but embrace, each others idiosyncrasies.) Even though it’s Jared with whom Kami has had a psychic bond since infancy, it’s Angela I can’t imagine her without. I’d expect nothing less from Brennan, however, who is a world-class champion of girl friendships.
Someone Like You may very well have been the first YA novel I read after my move from the elementary library to middle school. I know it was definitely one of the first, and it is the only one I remember from my first whirlwind year learning to cope with the broad span of readers in middle school. My students were somewhat more life savvy than I had been at that age, and were very ready for books involving teenage pregnancy. This is one of the best out there, even after all this time I look to it to appeal to some of my most dedicated non-readers, looking for a story that seems real to them. My favorite thing about it is that it is told through the lens of the friendship between pregnant Scarlett and her BFF Haley, who stands by her side throughout the most difficult experience of either of their young lives.
I hesitate a little to claim that the relationship between narrator Austin Szerba and his best friend Robby Brees is a simple friendship. If you’ve read the book, in Austin’s own words, “You know what I mean.” But, fundamentally, beneath everything else, there is the solid love and affection of friendship that Austin and Robby have for each other. Whether they are suffering the abuse of the brainless jocks who beat them up in the alley they refer to as Grasshopper Jungle, sharing smokes while they contemplate the disastrous lives of the adults they know, or defending the world from an invasion of six foot tall praying mantises, Robby and Austin depend on one another in a beautiful and compelling way.
I highly recommend each of these books for their individual merit, although I think probably only Dash & Lily is what I would refer to as an ‘almost everybody’ book. Each, however, is a beautiful example of the strong emphasis YA places on friendship.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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