Recently, I was living my life and scrolling through Tumblr as one does when something that twisted my gut came across my TL. Someone said that after reading SJM’s books they craved more female friendship and I stunned because the last thing I think of when I think of those books are female friendship, in fact, I feel like female friendship in those books are a bit like Mothman. A lot of people believe they’ve seen it but we’re pretty sure it isn’t real.
This put me on the track of thinking about friendships in YA, in general, not just female, and lead me to the conclusion that friendships in YA suck. They’re often shoved aside for having a romantic or familial relationship which are shown to be deeper and more superior to friendships.
Friendships are shown to be shallow, substanceless, inferior to almost all other relationships, especially romance. So much so, that if friends are close they’ll often be shipped which can often also be used by authors to queerbait readers.
Without much effort, authors will try to add “close” friends which are usually just an allusion to what friendships actually are and what the book could’ve made it, what could’ve been. Meaning that the authors will tell us the characters are “close” or “old” friends without actually showing us anything to back that up.
Friends in YA are generally ghost figures, appearing if the protag needs to relay information, needs to seem more “normal” or “relatable”, needs help or some down time away from the plot. This is where we can commonly see the YA Friend show up.
(And yes, friend singular because I find most YA characters are granted one friend, usually of the same cisgender, or two friends, one of the same cisgender and the other of the opposing cisgender).
Any sort of deep, emotional bond is reserved for the protag’s love interest or family, sometimes even their mentor figure, but rarely the friends.
Any sort of deep emotional bond, moment, action, in regards to the friend is nonexistent, even where they clearly should be. Like in cases of friends being “close” or where the protag will have suffered trauma and their “best friend” can’t help them but the usually toxic LI or mentor can suddenly snap them out of it. When the protag needs help or advice, the friend is bypassed in place of an LI or someone older than them.
Thing like that show friendships to being inferior. They’re repeated over and over until we know that friendships have no place but the background of a story.
Now, this being said, I can actually think of two examples of friendships in YA that are actually pretty close to what teen friendship is. These come in the forms of Justyce and Manny from Dear Martin and Safiya and Iseult from the Witchlands series.
(Mild spoiler warning for Windwitch and Truthwitch?)
Dear Martin is an amazing book right off the bat in that is feels like it’s written for teens by teens. There isn’t much adult voice interfering with it, it feels close to home and personal in a lot of general teenage ways.
One of the best aspects of this book was the relationship between Manny and Justyce. Now, initially, this was kind of worrying because if you see male/male friendship in YA it’s often riddled with toxic masculinity.
This was just friendship plain and simple but also so much more.
Two people who don’t just hang out to show that Justyce has a life beyond school, dating, and his experiment but who actually have a bond. They’re shown having that deep, close, old relationship, founded on multiple similar interests, as well as a deeper, unique bond.
You can see that they care for one another, they can talk and be honest with one another, they’re comfortable around each other. Their interactions are natural and fluid, they know the boundaries of the other, where to push, where to step back. They have the ability to talk openly and critique one another without it getting to be so toxic it ends their relationship. They get into arguments but know where things went wrong.
They’re friends, with a fully formed relationship that is repeatedly shown on the page, not just skimped over.
Honestly, this friendship is so formed within this small amount of time, a friendship that coexists with romantic relationships and the actual plot, it is perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Moving on to the Witchlands series [POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING], I found the relationship of Safiya and Iseult to also be amazing compared to other books. It doesn’t ring as close to home as Dear Martin did but that could be for a number of reasons, one being it’s fantasy, another being that in Windwitch Safiya and Iseult are never physically together.
That being said they do have an amazing friendship one that I really feel like fantasy ignores a lot in favor of other relationships (romantic/sexual, family, mentor) and in favor of the plot because for some reason if you want to have a plot and other relationships, they can’t have friends?
Truthwitch does a great job of establishing Safi and Iz’s relationship, being close, comfortable, and knowledgeable of the other. It’s clearly shown on the page that they are close, we aren’t just told that we see it and feel it coming off the page, the entire first book.
I was a little worried about how their relationship would fare in Windwitch as they weren’t physically together but my fears were quickly extinguished as they’re shown constantly concerned for the other, thinking about the other.
This shows that their relationship is more than just what we saw when they’re together. Distance doesn’t cause it to dim, it causes it to grow in a way and that’s beautiful and pretty accurate. Friends care about one another and Witchlands does a great job showing it.
The friendship in those, the closeness, the love, the deep, unique bond is always shown and experienced. Not just told only to be half heartedly brought to life when it’s convenient for the story or the author remembers.
Some part of me understands why this happens. Often, I hear adults talking about the friendships they made in college and their adult lives and how those always shadowed or were deeper than the ones in high school. That those made a larger impact and lasted longer.
I don’t know if that’s actually the case but I do know friendships made in high school, in my teens years, have meant a lot to me. That they’ve been strong and unique bonds that I would have been lost without and I don’t think those relationships should be skimped out on in YA just because people prefer romance or because of their adult lives. Those different types of relationships can coexist but in
Those different types of relationships can coexist but in choosing them, choosing romance over friendship can often be a harmful choice. Repeatedly doing so is like implying that having a romantic partner is what we’re always aiming for when a lot of times it isn’t. It’s a nice bonus, a nice side effect of knowing someone but isn’t the same as a friendship.
I rarely see close nonromantic adult relationships but I see hundreds amongst teens. Those who stick to one another like glue, who knows their friends like the back of their hands, who worries and fret like parents, defend like siblings, care and are as close as couples, all while being more than any of those relations. They are friends.
They can confide, criticize, and rely on in a way that a lot can’t do with family, they can trust with little fear or harm or abandonment.
Friendships are beautiful and based on far more than the blood in one’s veins or the softness of one’s lips or a few single similar interests.
And yet, YA often shies away from these relationships. They’ll play with the complexity of a morally gray character but they won’t touch close friends?
There’s so much potential there and plenty of books have shown their potential to have fully fleshed out friendships but believe or choose to sacrifice it for other kinds of relationships. They show time and time again romance or family, but usually, romance, trumping friendship, ignoring that they can coexist.
All I really have to say now is enough of that bullshit.
Start writing close friendships, start writing actual friendships. Start showing me them and stop telling me that they simply are with nothing to back up your claim. Stop giving me protags who have “close” friends but only call upon them when needed.
Stop portraying gross, shallow, substanceless, almost inaccurate friendships, stop ruining the beautiful idea of friendships.
Close friendships are real, beautiful, and unique, existing on hundreds of different levels with hundreds of aspects to them.
Write them like that. Write actual friends. Not ghosts, not puppets. Friends.
That’s all for now, let me know if you have any thoughts on this below, and check back later for more content.