Take 5: YA Lit with Great Female Friendships
Yesterday I shared with you a little bit about my feelings about people telling The Teen that she is “too sensitive”. It’s something that we obviously talk about a lot because I want to remind her that she can and should be able to express her feelings and stand up for herself. The other part of the equation is that I also share YA books that have strong female friendships in them with her. It’s important to keep in mind that these are not romanticized ideals of friendship; in fact, I love books that are just the opposite, that model friendships going through turbulent times and how the girls in the stories figure out ways to work out their issues. Sometimes the friends will spend a large part of the story apart as they figure out how they feel and why. Here are a few of the recent ones that she has read and loved. Please share your recommendations in the comments, we’re always looking for more to read.
Kissing in America by Margo Rabb
About the Book: In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who seems to truly understand Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head-over-heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the west coast to see Will again. As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.
In this honest and emotional journey that National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr calls “gorgeous, funny, and joyous,” readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all of its forms.
Karen’s Thoughts: This is not just a great book about the friendship between two girls – and it is in fact that – but it is a great book about female relationships in a lot of different directions, including mothers and daughters. The trip brings Eva and Annie together and tears them apart, but it’s what they learn along the way that really matters.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
About the Book: Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.
Karen’s Thoughts: Look, this book is glorious and if you haven’t read it you should rectify that right away. Like Kissing in America, this is a great book about a variety of different types of relationships, including mothers and daughters and girls and their favorite aunts. It’s a book about grief and healing. It’s a book about self acceptance. It’s a book about falling in love. But it is a book about old friendships and new, about loving friends, about hurting friends, about forgiving friends – and that is one of the most amazing parts of Dumplin’s story.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
About the Book: Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.
Karen’s Thoughts: This is a book we both read this year in preparation of meeting author Sarah Dessen, one of my long time favorites. Sydney finds herself adrift after her older brother is sent to jail and her family dynamics are totally changed. She is taken in by a new family, where she meets Mac and Layla. Although there is some good romance stuff happening with Mac, it is the friendship with Layla that I found to be the most compelling part of this book.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
About the Book: I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine – and I will do anything, anything to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France – an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team
Karen’s Thoughts: This is one of the most profound and glorious examples of female friendships I have every read. It’s historical fiction and shows our two main characters engaged in activities that were very unusual for girls at that time – flying a plane! So that’s an additional bonus element to Verity. But man, this friendship is just amazing.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
About the Book: Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins
Karen’s Thoughts: It pains me to note that at this point, this is a classic. And of all the titles this one is perhaps the most romanticized, in part because the magical pants bring that element into the story. And, of course, in this story the girls actually spend a great amount of time apart going on their own separate journeys. But it is the coming back together again that reminds us all that friends can spend time apart, learn and grow and change, and still be friends in the end.
And a Bonus TV Show: Girl Meets World
I am not ashamed to say that I love this show. Yes, it’s very preachy and heavy handed, but it also features two very fleshed out and strong female leads that I just enjoy. Maya is my favorite, in part because she has more dimensionality to her. But they have also done a really good job in recent episodes of giving more depth and conflict to Riley. I’ve been a little worried with the Texas series about the plot device of having a boy come between them, though this is a very real world scenario for this age group. I just worry over making this strong story of two girls now become about a boy, at least about a boy’s role in their lives and their friendship. But I’m trying to keep an open mind and hope that they don’t screw things up.
As we go into this new year, I have been thinking a lot about friendship. The Teen likes to read romance, which I understand because I remember being in middle school. But I hate the way girls reach a certain age and all the sudden everything becomes about boys. It’s not a thing that just happens, it is in fact a message that we send to girls culturally over and over again. So I love a good book that reminds us all that friendships are not only as important but sometimes even more important than the boyfriends that can highlight the middle and high school years. I am personally not in contact with any of the boys I dated during these years, but I still talk to some of my best friends and I am grateful to have those relationships all these years later. So here’s to female friendships in YA literature!
Filed under: Teen Fiction
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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