7 Great Novels About Young Female Friendships ‹ Literary Center

You know the blaze of friendship between young women when you see it: two teenage girls sharing headphones and leaning against the window of a suburban bus stop; the wild screams and clinking of espresso and martini glasses at a college roommate party; an affirmation of “you’re too good for him” to a young woman sobbing into her friend’s shoulder on a downtown sidewalk. Intimacy, fever, fragility. A young woman’s best friend is her confidante and companion – an emotionless refuge from the insensitivity of the outside world.

I grew up as a child with a shy streak and a fixation on niche hobbies. I spent much of my childhood and even my early teens in a corner of the classroom or schoolyard, peeking at close friendships and wondering what it would be like. to be part of it. The Sisterhood of Travel Pants and Anne of Green Gables provided escapes into the realm of, as Anne would put it, having “close friends”. Once I got over my wall, I constantly thought about the thrill of finally having friends. I went from conceptualizing friendships I didn’t have to writing odes to ones I was making now.

I started writing my first novel, Groupies, shortly after spending three days in the scorching heat of a music festival with one of my best friends, Anna. We were both 18, ready to run arm in arm and rejoice in our newfound freedom. I wanted to write a book about rock groupies, a premise that apparently had nothing to do with friendship. To be a groupie is to pursue an explicitly romantic or sexual relationship with a celebrity.

But a groupie – a young woman who always oscillates between joy and devastation – would need a friend or two to keep her together. Faun, the main character, is powered by his friendship with his real blue pal, Josie. Josie’s sass and charm inspire and intimidate Faun. Having a best friend who is arguably cooler and more successful than her is both an advantage and a burden. As Faun enters the world of rock-n-roll, she bonds with the other women in their ranks.

Adulthood leaves a permanent bruise. A girl’s closest friends can ease that pain and keep her going, or they can double the pain and break her heart more than romance ever could. Again, usually it’s both. Young women can form bonds so dangerously strong that they are on the verge of implosion. They love their best friends. They hate their best friends. They need it to navigate their budding potential.

Now that Groupies is over, I still find myself turning to stories of friendships between young women. I never tire of hymns to the power, passion and undeniable magic of these unstable and unbreakable bonds.

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Robin Wassermangirls on fire
(Harper Perennial)

The title keeps its promise: the burning friendship of this book really burns. Wasserman introduces us to Battle Creek, a small town ravaged by the Satanic Panic of the 1990s, as lonely, bookish teenager Dex quickly befriends a mysterious Cobain devotee named Lacey. Dex and Lacey become close, then codependent, then obsessive. Dark secrets unfold in this bloody ride through two volatile girls discovering their collective power. Wasserman’s beautiful prose contrasts with the dark tone of a book so captivating that I read it many times when it first came out.

fiona and jane

John Chen Ho, Fiona and Jane
(Viking)

This 2022 must-have is a deep dive into two childhood friends, written through patchwork chapters with a shifting timeline. Ho uses sharp observations and tender prose to paint a full (and often contrasting) portrait of a lifelong friendship. Through back-and-forth stories, Fiona and Jane’s friendship evolves as they navigate identity, desire, and fear as Asian women in contemporary America. The bittersweet warmth of this book shows that a friendship can be just as exciting and complicated as a romance.

Queen

Candice Carty-Williams Queen
(Gallery/Scout Press)

In Queenie, Carty-Williams introduces us to an unforgettable main character, a twenty-something whose life is a bit catastrophic. As a Jamaican-British woman, Queenie doesn’t fit her job as a journalist and is constantly torn between her family’s expectations and the bustling, unforgiving culture of London. While her romantic misadventures take center stage in this story, she finds her heart in Queenie’s friendships. She can be self-centered and reckless, but her friendships challenge her, comfort her, and motivate her to move forward and understand herself by first understanding what others need.

Last summer on State Street

Toya Wolfe, Last summer on State Street
(William Morrow & Company)

Mention a book about a group of preteen girls bonding, and I’m already there. Wolfe’s debut is an epic exploration of a vital summer shared between four young girls in Chicago’s housing projects. Fe Fe is a brave and daring protagonist and her blossoming friendships with girls she has little in common with other than closeness are striking. Wolfe takes his reader through the complexities of growing up when your world is literally destroyed. This book revels in the eternal glow of the temporary bonds of a childhood summer.

social creature

Tara Isabelle Burton, social creature
(Anchor Books)

This propulsive novel opens with a pampered Lavinia preparing her new friend, the unattached Louise, for a party. She makes her up, dresses her, and philosophizes about the heartless pomp of the New York socialite scene. Louise is, of course, captivated by Lavinia’s social power. What follows is a difficult twist through debauchery and distress as the two young women bond. While Lavinia might see Louise as just a project, Louise quickly becomes obsessed with Lavinia and her life. No spoilers here, but if you like The Talented Mr. Ripleythis book is for you.

These impossible things

Salma El-Wardany, These impossible things
(Grand Central Publishing)

This book is hopeful and joyful, even as its three key characters grapple with the difficulties of love and faith. Malak, Kees and Jenna are three young Muslim women who have been friends since they were children. Their friendship is strong and remains so until college ends and the future becomes frighteningly real and unknowable. Each young woman is fully realized and complex – a hugely impressive feat. The friendships between Malak, Kees and Jenna are stepping stones and stabilizing forces through the tension between what they want for their lives and who they are.supposed want to.

The hot girl

Claire Messud, The hot girl
(WW Norton & Company)

Messud’s evocative novel comes from the perspective of protagonist Julia, as she pieces together a friendship that once defined every part of her life. As Julia reflects on the lost magic of childhood and the all-too-familiar misfortunes of adolescence, she realizes how things went wrong and how, no matter what, the bond she shared with her friend Cassie will cling to her forever. This book feels like a late August night – warm but dark, sparkling with the feeling that something pure is coming to an inevitable end.

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groupies

Groupies by Sarah Priscus is available through William Morrow & Company.

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