Saturday, 2 May 2015

Books and Their ~Ships (1): Where Have the Female Friendships Gone?

Books and their ~ships. This is not a shameless excuse of mine to list all my OTPs (though that would be quite good fun); rather, I am referring to the relationships that are present within books, platonic or romantic.
If you're anything like me, characters are very important. It can be beautifully written, or have a smashing plot, but if the characters aren't realistic, and if they aren't interacting with one another, it's never going to make it to the Favourite Books list. I am fascinated by relationships in books, and have recently been thinking about friendships: their presence, or lack of.
Unless I have more readers than I know, every single one of you who follows is female (if you follow and aren't, I apologise for overlooking you; please alert me of your existence). And if there's anything we girls know about, it is best friends. "Middle-grade" authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, Jean Ure and Cathy Cassidy capitalise on this, with friendships forming a central theme around many of their books:
Most of the characters in these books, and almost all of the readers, are too young for romance, and so it doesn't make an appearance.
However, once the characters become teenagers, everything changes.
I don't know if I've ever read a book with a female MC aged 15+ that is romance-free. This is fair enough, because at this age most girls do spend a lot of time thinking about boys, crushes etc., and of course it makes for relatable reading. But though girls begin to see boys in a different way, does that mean that our platonic friendships disappear? Of course not. But it seems that in YA, this is what happens.
This, it seems, is a completely girl-specific thing. Boys keep their best friends:
Incidentally that is 0% how I imagine Adam's hair. But it was the best one I could find without Blue. (Sorry Blue.)

But girls? Where are the sister-like friendships, people??

Of course, there are some girls in real life whose only friends are boys. (They say it is less drama.) And subsequently in YA, these girls exist: Valkyrie, whose best friend is Skulduggery; Hermione with Harry and Ron; Blue and her Raven Boys. But the truth is that such girls are a rare breed; the vast majority of us have other girls as our best friends.
But in YA? Where are they?

I'm not saying that there are none of these friendships around.

Celaena and Nehemia!

Tris and Christina!

But in reality? Though these friendships are here, the numbers of them are way out of proportion to real life. And, most of the time, they are given far less page-space than the main romantic relationship. Tris's relationship with Christina, for example, is absolutely dwarfed by what's going on with Four. Likewise, there is next to no development between Celaena and Nehemia, in comparison to everything between her and Chaol or Dorian. I read Throne of Glass recently, and was pretty stunned when we suddenly got to:
Celaena was held in place. She could feel the name fall upon her like a shimmering veil. This was unconditional love. Friends like this did not exist. Why was she so fortunate as to have found one?
After pages, chapters, detailing Celaena's interactions with Chaol and Dorian, suddenly: bam. To me it seemed like Maas saw the necessity for a best friend in the form of Nehemia, but had run out of time or space or willpower to develop her.
Another example is Anna and the French Kiss. I read it a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it - almost. It began with Anna discussing her friendship with Bridget; I thought, "hurrah for a female friendship!" Throughout the book their relationship develops; so far, so good. But Bridget is in the US, Anna in Paris, and so of course she makes some new friends, around whom most of the action centres. I was not impressed by this, in the last chapter:
           “That’s it,” Rashmi says. “I’m outta here. Enjoy your hormones.”
           Josh and Mer follow her exit, and we’re alone. Just the way I like it.
           “Ha!” Étienne says. “Just the way I like it.”
I get it. I mean, I ship Anna/Etienne very hard. They are a brilliant couple and of course they like being alone together. But isn't Anna being a little unfair? Meredith, Josh and Rashmi took her in when she was alone in Paris - Meredith especially was very nice to her - but she seems to be just ditching them, and leading Etienne to do so as well. I understand that when you're in a serious relationship, your partner is your best friend - after all, serious relationships lead to marriage, a lifelong friendship. But as teenagers, I think that the drowning out of all other friendships is both inaccurate and unhealthy.
In my opinion, there's a bigger issue at stake here, too. Why is it that romance - not friendship - dominates YA? I think it's part of a cultural push, tied up in the ideals of screen and magazine page, to tell us that we are defined only by our relationships with men. Even supposedly "strong" female characters are susceptible to it. When it came to Mockingjay, what kept you reading - the revolution, headed by Katniss, archer and general badass extraordinaire? Or her choice between Peeta and Gale? Despite a post-apocalyptic setting with a civilisation at risk and a murderous government bearing down on humanity, the love triangle was still the novel's driving force.
Interestingly, to find the best female friendships, I find the need to turn to the pages of classic fiction.

Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables by LM Mongomery.

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Helen Burns

The March Sisters from Little Women by LM Alcott
Of course, classic fiction is chock-a-block with romance - don't all of these novels start with a heroine and end, at some point, with a marriage? - but the big difference is this: these girls are not monopolised by their men. They have friends, too. I think it is a huge flaw in our YA culture, this plethora of authors who feel the need to centre so much around romance that there are no friendships present. In our supposedly feminist world, is it not time to address the attitudes that tell girls that, no matter their skills, they are ultimately defined by men? The trope of a perfect romance is everywhere, but, for me, this leaves friendship severely lacking.
So, please tell me: what are your views on this subject? What's the best female friendship you've ever come across? Do you agree that there is a scarcity of them in YA lit?

And, since this post does have "ships" in the title ... go on. Tell me your OTP.

Emily x

PS The eagle-eyed among you will notice that yes, this is my first post in over two months. I am well(ish - I did have tonsillitis, which was less than ideal) and the reason I've not been around is that I have been working very hard for school. Exams have just started (literally, yesterday) and I've done History - the hardest one!! Only five more to go! Do you have exams currently? (For tis the season!) Feel free to have a (short) moan and I will attempt to console you.

PPS I will try to get round some of your frabjous blogs as soon as possible. I'm sorry I've not been around - be assured that I have, at least, been reading/commenting in spirit.


  1. I never realized this. But you are completely right. There is a lack of female friendships in YA. And it does send the message that these strong females are defined more by their romantic relationships than their own lives, drives, and personality.

    Anne and Diana! I miss them. It made me so sad though when they grew up and Anne felt she didn't relate to Diana as much as she used to, even though they were still great friends.

    1. Exactly! I think it's such a misrepresentation of reality; because for the most part, teenage romances don't last, but friends made as teenagers can be lifelong.

      I KNOW! The last book I read was Anne of Windy Willows and it just about killed me when Anne went out driving with Katharine Brook and though about how it used to be Diana beside her, but now she was too busy with marriage and motherhood ... I missed them a lot in that book.

  2. One of the female friendships that come to mind is The Gallagher Girls, definitely the crew of girls who have super-tight friendships. I do find that there aren't that many female friendships though; it's why I treasure one when I find it.

    1. Ooh, good point; I didn't think of them. I've not actually read all of those books; I read the first few but didn't finish the series. But you're right. They were a good group.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kat! :)

  3. YES YES YES! I'm so with you on this post! I feel like friendship is totally underused in YA books. In real life, most girls (I know) are closer with their friends than their (usually non-existent) boyfriend(s). Anytime I see a good friendship or sisterhood in a book, it automatically has a special place in my heart.

    Great post to come back with!

    1. RIGHT? In real life, most girls (I know) are closer with their friends than their (usually non-existent) boyfriend(s) -- you have summed up a lot of what I was attempting to say! XD

      Thank you! :)

  4. Glad you're back, Emily! :) And.... YES, EXAMS ARE TAKING OVER MY LIFE. Okay, enough with that (although the exams are truly dreadful), I never really thought about this subject before, but you are exactly right! Lots of YA books don't really show the good and true girl friendships, although they really do exist in real life, contrary to all the "girl drama" clichés.

    The March Sisters are one of my favorites. They have their ups and downs, but are always there for each other in the end. I really need to read Anne of Green Gables; it's been sitting on my bookshelf for too long! *makes note to put it on To Be Read List after school lets out*

    1. Thanks, Carly! YES I FEEL YOU! Good luck with them, though!

      I love the March sisters, a lot. I need to reread Little Women, actually ... YES YOU DO. Anne is the absolute best. My favourite female character!

  5. Wow, this is such a great point! I never really thought of that- even in some of my favorite series, the guy has his best friend, and the girl just becomes friends by association. Not cool! Now I am thinking of Perry and Roar in Under the Never Sky, Adam and Kenji in Shatter Me... why is this a thing!? I am trying to think of some good examples....

    Okay, I don't remember all the friends' names (sorry!) but here are some books that had great female friendships: The Kiss of Deception, The Cure for Dreaming, I'll Meet you There, Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler, The Dwellers Series by David Estes... I am trying to think of more, but you are right, this is HARD! Such a fabulous post topic!

    (Oh, and my OTP?? Katniss and Peeta. Always.)

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    1. I've not read either of those books - is that two guy/girl duos? Me likewise - even in Harry Potter and Skulduggery Pleasant, two of my favourites, there are no female best friends. (Though, to be fair, if Lavendar and Parvati were the only other girls in my house I'd definitely opt for Harry and Ron!)

      I have read zero of those books! Maybe that's why I can think of so few! It is very hard. Thank you for saying so :)

      I do like Katniss/Peeta. Although I think that when I read the books I was a bit young (12ish) to be in full shipping capacity ... and I now only have Josh Hutchinson in my head, who frankly I think is pretty unattractive. So it is difficult to say!

  6. What's really awful (and exactly the point you're making!) is that I actually have to go to goodreads to see what books come to mind with female friendships. THIS IS AN ISSUE. Authors need to fix that. We're doing better on diversity - maybe 2016 can be the year of lady friends??

    Okay but here's what I came up with: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White (still with a romance, but the female friendship is pretty well developed imo), Open Road Summer by Emery Lord (!!!), and The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor (even if there's also a crap-ton else going on because those books are DENSE).

    Wow. That's horribly lacking. #failure

    (But as for my OTP, that's an awful question to ask, because I have way too many. But my most recent would have to be Christian and Elyse in The Summer of Chasing Mermaids)

    1. YES. I would love that!

      I've read none of those, although Daughter of Smoke and Bone is high on my list of priorities. Strong female friendship sounds perfect! I now want to read it even more!

      I'm sorry! ;) (I'm really not.) I've not heard of that, although it has a great title .... to Goodreads!

  7. "This is not a shameless excuse of mine to list all my OTPs" I'd definitely be up for that too ;D Characters and their interactions and relationships to each other are extremely important to me as well. I agree, it seems like boys' friendships are more commonly depicted. There is even a word for it-BROTPs and bromances. If there is one for the ladies, I've never heard of it. So I agree, there definitely needs to be more female friendships. I think my favorite would be Celaena and Nehemia. As for my OTP, we would be here for hours ;)

    1. Haha, so would I! Maybe in another post .....

      Yes. BRO-TPs seem to dominate, whilst girls' friendships are pushed to one side. I do love Celaena and Nehemia.

      Endless OTP problems? Tell me about it!

  8. I'm glad you're feeling better and good luck on your exams! Great post!



    1. YIKES
      if you refollow / manually re-add my blog with my new url, it should work.

  10. Brilliant post and so true! I was actually thinking about something similar recently, that there are lots of brother-sister or brother-brother relationships in YA fiction, but not as many between two sisters. We've got Hunger Games... and not too much else. In a society that's supposedly so feminist, you'd think there would be a lot more of females in our teen fiction.
    My favorite female best friends... probably Babysitters club when I was younger, and the March sisters are pretty awesome, too.


    1. That is true! And yes. I totally agree. I don't know how the huge divide between our feminist culture and our lack of female representation in books has gone unchecked for so long. It's kind of ironic, considering that there are people who say that classic fiction represents a patriarchal view of women, that we have to go back to classics to find these female friendships.

      Thanks for stopping by, Alexa!


Thanks for commenting! :)