T10T: Favorite Fictional Friendships

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Book Characters I’d Love to Be Besties With, but since I couldn’t think of (m)any, I’m going to talk about something a little different: my favorite fictional portrayals of friendships.

While writing this list, I tried to mostly focus on female friendships, and… the YA world has come so far since its long “all is about romance; friendships, especially female friendships, are irrelevant” phase.

The Grays from The Lost Coast


It only makes sense that in a book from the point of view of a queer girl that is specifically about finding your community, friendship is one of the most important themes, and this group of queer witches (“the grays”) are now one of my favorite friend groups. This whole book and the way it talks about friendship reminded me a little of The Raven Cycle, except not male-focused, and I loved that.

The Grays are really close, all love each other in different ways, and everyone has their own magic; it’s so great to see this in an age range in which most friendship groups have always more male characters than women and no non-binary characters at all.

Haimey, Connla and Singer from Ancestral Night


It’s always so nice to read books in which the relationships the characters value the most are friendships instead of romances, especially when it comes to books that, like Ancestral Night, are specifically about recovering from trauma. (The “romantic love cures you” trope is out. The “support from friends can be great” trope is in.)

Haimey Dz is a lesbian space salvager who lives on a spaceship with her pilot friend Connla (who is a bisexual or pansexual man), the AI Singer, and their two cats (yes, everything is better with cats, including space). I loved reading about their interactions and their ship-scavenging pirate-escaping life in low gravity.

[This is the only book on this list that is adult and not YA.]

The friend group from The Weight of the Stars


Teens in difficult situations come together in this genre-bending sci-fi romance, and the friendships in this book have a complicated and… sometimes all but smooth dynamic, but there’s so much love here. Ryann and her group of mostly dysfunctional friends. It’s one of the examples in which I didn’t care strongly for every single character individually (it’s a standalone, the space to develop characters is what it is, and I still really liked most of them) but I cared so much for them as a group.

Fatima and the Alif sisters from The Candle and the Flame


Fatima is a character who has lost so much – both her parents and her adopted parents, and might lose more yet – so seeing her have a relationship relatively devoid of conflict with the three Alif sisters was so refreshing and wholesome (they’re not her sisters, adoptive or not, but they feel as if they were). Also, this book portrays an aspect of female friendship, especially between young teens, that you rarely see in books: part of it is just… being silly because you can, and I loved how this book never portrayed that in a judgmental way.

Jam, Redemption, and Pet from Pet


I feel like middle grade is really good at portraying friendships (I haven’t read a lot of it, but that’s the impression I have), and upper YA is getting better at it, but as time goes on, I see less and less lower YA in general. So, reading Pet, a lower YA focusing on friendship and family, was so refreshing. The friendship Jam and Redemption had was so sweet, and I also really liked how the two interacted during their “monster hunt” with Pet, the mysterious creature who came out of one of Jam’s mother’s paintings. I know this isn’t going to happen, because this makes sense as a standalone – and a really short one at that – but I’d love to read more books with them.

Jules, Dia and Hanna from This Is What It Feels Like


Complicated friendships! One of my favorite topics to talk about in literature. This Is What It Feels Like is about three girls who were once friends and in a band, but their band fell apart for various reasons (one of the girls was dealing with grief and a pregnancy, another with alcoholism) and this story is about them reconnecting. It’s an emotional read with three beautifully-written character arcs and one of my favorite portrayals of friendship ever.

Maybe a friendship can’t survive everything, but just because something ended, it doesn’t mean it can’t start again. The second chance trope isn’t just for romance.

The Mercies and Trigve from The Boneless Mercies


Four warrior girls and a soft healer boy go on a quest to slay a monster, not because they have to, but because they want to, they’re seeking glory, and isn’t reading about active protagonists looking for their place in the world the best thing ever, especially when they’re women? This is one of the very few books I know that, instead of making the usual, boring assumption that romance is “being more than friends”, explicitly has a character answer “so it’s deeper, then” when the main character says that Trigve is not her lover, he is her friend – and this was so interesting to see. I loved the Mercies and Trigve so much, all of them, and I really want this to get a sequel.

Mercedes and Victoria from The Gallery of Unfinished Girls


The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a story about art and perfectionism just as much as it is a story about a friendship going through a difficult time – high school is ending and Mercedes and Victoria aren’t going to see each other as often during college; also, Mercedes has realized that she has unrequited romantic feelings for Victoria. It’s not a romance, it is a character-driven story about the complexity of teenage female friendship, about moving on, and… it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

Xiomara and Caridad from The Poet X


This is a poetry novel, and there is one poem that stuck with me over all the others, in a book that was already really emotional and impactful: Caridad and I Shouldn’t Be Friends. What you almost never see in novels are friendships in which the people involved are… so different, even sometimes in what they believe in, that they should clash all the time, but they don’t. Because, as this poem says, they know each other in ways they don’t have to explain.

I’d love to read a book that explores a dynamic like this one as the main plot, because there’s a lot to say about the… inevitable moments of resentment and sometimes envy, and why the characters are close anyway. I’d love to see this for both friendships that end up working out and for ones in which the characters grow apart.

Jess and Angie from A Line in the Dark


And to end the post on a “typical Acqua” note, I’m going to talk about my favorite portrayal of a toxic friendship, from A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo. This is a story about unrequited love and tangled feelings and how the line between loyalty and obsession is sometimes far too thin. It’s fascinating and ugly, and I loved every moment of it. Not only parents and significant others can be toxic for you – I’d say that teenagers are as likely to have been in a toxic friendship as in a toxic relationship – and I’d like YA fiction to reflect that.

What are your favorite fictional portrayals of fictional friendships?

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

25322449Radio Silence is a standalone contemporary book.

I liked this for what it wasn’t.
I liked that it was about a girl and a boy who end up being very close but develop no romantic feelings. I liked that it wasn’t a romance. I liked that it wasn’t the kind of contemporary that glosses over schoolwork. I liked that it wasn’t one of those books with an all-white, all-straight cast. I liked that it incorporated social media in a realistic way, for once.
But I already knew this book wasn’t any of these things – it’s the reason I read it in the first place. And it wasn’t anything more than not being these things, which was really disappointing. Trope subversion alone doesn’t make a book.

I didn’t actually like anything about this. I probably should have. I mean, this seemed what I had been looking for in contemporary. The problem was, I didn’t care about anything in here.
Not the characters, not the (really not-there, for an almost 500-page book) plot, not the podcast or the friendships – actually, the way Frances’ internal monologue talked about Aled creeped me out sometimes. I love creepy, but this clearly wasn’t intended to be that way.

This was also very… real. I don’t mean realistic, because I don’t know what realistic looks like in the UK and my life is in no way similar to Frances’ (now I feel like this is one of those contemporary books whose selling point is being relatable and those never work for me because they just aren’t). With “real” I mean that the interactions between the characters were just like real life, really awkward and embarrassing. I am one of those people who feels secondhand embarrassment a lot, and it’s difficult to like a book when you have to put it down every three lines because you’re cringing so much.

I don’t know whether I’m in a slump or I’m just choosing the wrong books, but I’m tired of being disappointed so often. I wanted to love this, and I didn’t. I didn’t hate it either. It was just there, and I had almost no motivation to keep reading. I often had to force myself.

I usually write a paragraph about the characters and what I thought of them, but this time I have no opinions I haven’t already said, which is… not a good sign when the book is character-driven and almost 500 pages. I expected to love them and I felt nothing.
There’s a conversation that bothered me because of some lines that were kind of aphobic, but while they aren’t explicitly called out, by the end the character who said them realizes they were wrong.

The writing wasn’t bad, but I had no sense of setting, which meant that in my head half of the time the characters were floating in blank space. The only thing I know is that the UK school system is a bad idea and sometimes I love being Italian.

I don’t actually think this is a bad book. I do think the hype was one of the reasons I didn’t love this, but mine is an unpopular opinion.
If you want a story about friendships and fandom but with queer teens, try this. You’ll probably love it.

My rating: ★★¼

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens

DressCodesSmallTownsDress Codes for Small Towns is, more than anything, a story about friendship.
This book follows Billie and her group of friends, called “the Hexagon”.

Billie is the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher. Otter’s Holt isn’t a good place to experiment, but she is questioning her sexuality.
Janie Lee (pixie) is Billie’s best friend. They do not feel completely at home in Otter’s Holt, but while Billie doesn’t want to leave, Janie Lee has plans.
Woods (president) is charismatic and an extrovert. Both Billie and Janie Lee have a crush on him. Both Billie and Janie Lee are, in some way, in love with each other. Yes, it’s complicated.
Davey (pretender) is the new guy in town. He loves cosplay, but he doesn’t know if he’s going to attend the next LaserCon – his family is falling apart, and all he has are his friends.
Fifty (douchebag) is kind of a douchebag, but his friends love him anyway.
Marsh (puker) is biracial and pukes a lot. Those are his only character traits. Yes, he felt a bit like the “token black friend” and he was the least developed of the group.

The year I was seventeen, I had five best friends—a Pixie, a president, a pretender, a puker, and a douchebag—and I was in love with all of them for different reasons.

Dress Codes for Small Towns is also story about figuring yourself out when you live in a misogynistic, homophobic town. It’s a book that captures perfectly what it means to be young and not to know yourself. Am I really straight? Am I bi? What does that mean for me, my family and my faith? These are all topics this book deals with.
While the main character is questioning her sexuality, I never felt like she questioned her gender – she is offended when her friends tell her she’s one of the guys because she dresses a certain way. She’s not genderfluid, she’s a gender non-conforming woman.

I loved Otter’s Holt. It’s a small town with its traditions, which the Hexagon is fighting to preserve, and it has its own unique atmosphere.
Another thing I loved was that this book used the word “demisexual” to describe a minor character (who is demi & bi). It almost never happens.
What I didn’t like as much was the romance.

This is another book where there could have been a f/f relationship and there wasn’t. The main character is bi/pan (no label used, which made sense in her situation) and has a crush on her friend Janie Lee, who loves her too, but she doesn’t know in what way. When they experiment, they are discovered and then they refer to their kiss as a mistake, but they are into each other. This wouldn’t have been a problem if their kisses with their male friends had been considered mistakes too, but they didn’t feel guilty for those.
At the end of the book there are no romantic relationships.

I love books with no romance, but not like this.
My favorite book of all times (Ninefox Gambit, adult sci-fi) has a lesbian main character, and there’s no romance there, no love interest. She’s in trouble, she’s at war, she has a mass murderous ghost in her head. A romance in this situation would have felt forced, and it was clear from the beginning that NG was a “no romance, many explosions” kind of book. It made me happy – there was no romantic drama, no romantic subplots, and an all-queer cast. I love books like this.
What I don’t like it’s when there could be a f/f relationship but it doesn’t work out.
It’s realistic? Maybe.
But why does this happen only to f/f? Most straight romances get happy endings, and so do many m/m romances (well, these days. There are still many more tragic m/m books than m/f, but if I wanted a m/m romance it wouldn’t be difficult to find it).

But f/f?
I read 14 YA novels with lesbians/bi women as protagonists this year. Of those, only 4 ended with an established f/f relationship. Other 4 had a m/f relationship (5 if we count Little and Lion, which I will read soon) and 6 had a f/f relationship that didn’t work out in the end.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones. The Scorpion Rules. We Are Okay. Far From You. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls (one of my favorite books of all times!). And now, Dress Codes from Small Towns.
It’s not like there aren’t people who write f/f romance out there, but these are the books bought by publishers. This trend worries me.
I’m all for no romance or aro characters (hi!), but when the MC wants to be in a relationship, has a love interest and then they break up/don’t get together? I don’t like that as much. Yes, it shows that queer people can have happy endings without romance, but it’s becoming a trend, a trope, a cliché.
And clichés are annoying.

My rating: ★★★

Have you read Dress Codes for Small Towns? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

And: have you noticed this trend with f/f books too? Maybe I’m just unlucky.