Is it rare to see girl friendships portrayed well in YA fiction? I tend to think that's an area where there are fewer books than there should be and those that do tackle this subject stand out because it's fairly rare. Today, Jessica Spotswood is here to talk about female friendship in YA, and I think she gets a little to the heart of why it might be a rare thing and why it's something she fought for in her own work.
Jessica Spotswood is the author of the Cahill Witch Chronicles: BORN WICKED (2012), STAR CURSED (2013), and SISTERS' FATE (August 2014). She grew up in a tiny, one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or - most often - with her nose in a book. Now Jess lives in Washington, DC with her playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey. She can be found drinking tea, teaching writing workshops for teens, or - most often - with her nose in a book. Some things never change.
When Kelly listed a range of possible topics for my guest post, one leapt out at me right away: friendships in YA. It's a subject that's near and dear to my heart, because I would be lost without my girl friends, but strong, positive girl friendships feel like a rarity in YA.
To be honest, they were a rarity in my life as a teen, too. There were lots of toxic friendships, the kind marred by gossip and jealousy and competition, whether it was over parts in the school plays or over boys. These kind of mean-girl dynamics tend to be super popular in YA (see: PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and GOSSIP GIRL). Two of my favorite examples of some truly vicious girls are in Courtney Summers' SOME GIRLS ARE and in Katherine Longshore's GILT. For less fraught examples, check out the friendships gone wrong between Samantha and Nan in Huntley Fitzpatrick's MY LIFE NEXT DOOR, or between Cricket and Jules in Leila Howland's NANTUCKET BLUE. I think girl-on-girl bullying, frenemies, and friend breakups are all important to portray.
It strikes me, though, that the most common girl friendships in YA are sort of token friendships - the best girl friends who recede into the background once the heroine meets the right guy. This is one of my literary pet peeves, possibly because it rings so true to my own high school experience. I was the single girl amidst lots of couples, with girl friends who only made time for me when they needed relationship advice or consolation after breakups. It made me realize early on how often we idealize romantic relationships and focus on them to the exclusion of all else, and it gave me an early feminist horror for making a boy the be-all and end-all of one's life. I know firsthand that that dynamic is super realistic - but I don't think it's emotionally healthy or ideal, and too often it seems to go unquestioned within the text. If most other girls are either rivals or placeholders until our heroines meet the boys of their dreams - what is that saying?
My editor for the Cahill Witch Chronicles is brilliant, and I take the vast majority of her suggestions. But the issue of Cate's friends Sachiko Ishida and Rory Elliott was one that I pushed back on. Sachi and Rory are popular, fashionable, gossipy girls and Cate - who's preoccupied with the need to protect her sisters and keep their magic a secret from the patriarchal Brotherhood - originally dismisses them as nothing but cabbageheads. But - spoiler - she's wrong. My editor suggested early on that one of them should be after Finn, that it could be more dramatic if they functioned as rivals with Cate in some way. But it was important to me that Cate be wrong in her original estimation, that she misjudges these pretty girls who love bright colors and dresses, who choose to hide their own secrets in plain sight instead of cloistering themselves away and disdaining feminine things. One of my favorite scenes in the entire trilogy is when Cate realizes how fierce and loyal and strong Rory is, and she's ashamed of how she's treated her. It was important to me that Cate find true girl friends - women who are generous and clever and talented and funny, who support her and won't let her face her problems alone - and that she realize their worth.
I wish more YA books featured strong girl friendships - the kind worth every bit as much to the heroine as a boy, the kind who aren't shoved off stage or reduced only to giving relationship advice, who fight the monsters or evil government right alongside the heroine. Here are three girl friendships that I think are really, really awesome:
Rose and Lissa from the VAMPIRE ACADEMY series by Richelle Mead: This was the first example that came to mind, maybe because I just saw the movie! This friendship and the shadow-kissed bond between them are really at the heart of the series. Rose has to try to negotiate her romance around her loyalty to Lissa and her professional duty as Lissa's Guardian. There are elements of jealousy, of negotiating boundaries (especially since she has a psychic bond with Lissa), of figuring out how to define herself away from the friendship. It's an awesome, complex relationship that's every bit as important to both girls as their romances.
Karou and Zuzana from the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE series by Laini Taylor: I just read the novella "Night of Cake & Puppets" and it hit me again how special this friendship is. Karou and Zuzana are fiercely protective of one another. Zuzana knows that Karou is stronger than her in many ways, but she still threatens the jerk who broke her friend's heart. Karou is off having mad, dangerous adventures, but she still makes time to text Zuzana advice about Mik. Zuzana is Karou's link back to the everyday, human world; Karou provides the dash of magic Zuzana desperately wants. They balance each other in a really lovely, supportive way.
Kate and Parker from THINGS I CAN'T FORGET by Miranda Kenneally: Kate is a complex girl, which is why she's one of my favorite protagonists. She has very firm religious convictions that guide her every move, and at the beginning of the book she's incredibly judgey. She judges Parker, who's abandoned some of her church's teachings and whose mom is a lesbian. Parker calls Kate out when she's being hurtful, but over the course of the book, she becomes someone Kate can go to with frank questions about boys and sex and morality. Friends don't always agree on the big stuff, but I love how mutually respectful Kate and Parker are.
What about you? I'd love to read about some of your favorite girl friendships in the comments.
Jessica Spotswood is the author of the Cahill Witch Chronicles series, including Born Wicked, Star Cursed, and the upcoming conclusion, Sisters' Fate, available in August.