Friendship in YA

The other day I had a flash of realization about why my first WIP wasn’t feeling quite right. I wanted a kickass heroine in the novel, but the way I had the two main characters set up, a guy and a girl, the girl wasn’t very kickass. It was the guy who had the kickass abilities, and even though the girl had her own unique thing she didn’t feel very kickass. So I thought, well, what if I make that one a girl? But I didn’t really feel like the first character would work very well as a guy, the way I had the motivations and romance thread between them planned.

It took me a while to consider a third option: what if neither character was male? What if, instead of being romantic interests, they became friends? The sort of friends you’d go to the ends of the earth with, like Sam and Frodo; or you’d do the hard things for, like in Code Name Verity; or it would break your heart to lose, like BBC’s Sherlock and Watson. Love-at-first-sight I-would-do-anything-for-you friends. There’d be romantic subplots, but not between each other, and the friendship would be the focal relationship of the novel.

Would that fly in YA, I wonder? It seems like in YA, the main relationship development is always a romantic one. Aside from Code Name Verity, I’m having trouble thinking of another YA where the main characters are simply friends, with no romantic undertones. Harry Potter kinda has that with Hermione and Ron, though the series started out as MG where relationships are friendships, not romances. Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork trilogy has a really strong friendship between two of the main characters, but the focal relationship of the plot is really the romantic one(s). And… I’ve gone through my whole Goodreads list and can’t come up with another where it’s a friendship that’s front-and-center.

Thoughts? Do you think readers would root as passionately for a friendship as a romance? Can you think of any other examples of strong central friendships in YA?

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10 responses to “Friendship in YA

  1. O.R. Melling’s Chronicles of Faerie? They’re cousins, but also friends, and it’s really the friendship that matters.

    • Hm, don’t know it. Pubbed 2002. Seems to be rated really well on Goodreads, though not too many ratings total. I feel like the YA of yesteryear probably had more non-romance relationships in it, though I don’t really have any hard data for that, either. ;)

  2. I can’t think of any off the top of my head either, but I know personally, I would love to see more close friendships in YA.

    • It’s not something I really thought much about prior to this, but I think I would, too. I loved Code Name Verity. And I tried to bring that sort of friendship into Stars At Midnight with both protagonists, in their own ways.

  3. I think that sounds like a great idea. I always find it refreshing to read a YA-type book that does not have a romance, simply because, as you say, those are a lot harder to find. It is wonderful to read about a deep friendship developing between characters. A good YA book that I know of that contains a strong central friendship is The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint. In this book, the main focus is the friendship between two girls. There is a tiny bit of romance, but it’s mostly peripheral to the main plot. And it’s a great book as well! I’d love to read more YA books about friendships like that.

    • Ah, I haven’t read much of Charles de Lint’s stuff, but that’s interesting. It’s true such books are hard to find, and I wonder if it’s a case of the market driving the selection, or vice versa. Teens (to my recollection; it’s admittedly been a while since I was one) are pretty hung up on dating, and I wonder if they overlook their friendships to a degree, taking them for granted, such that reading about it doesn’t have the same emotional power?

  4. I think that sounds cool.

    I did a little research (based upon my memory), and I’m pretty sure these authors have books that don’t have a guy/girl relationship as the core relationship: John Green, Rick Riordan, Libba Bray, Ally Carter. I know Rick Riordan’s a bit MG, but I think his newer series is more YA (?)

    • Good suggestions, Sarah. It’s true Rick Riordan’s stuff is mostly MG-targeted so wouldn’t really have much of a romance angle. I admittedly haven’t read a whole lot by the others, but the ones I’ve read haven’t been quite what I’m thinking of, in that Anne of Green Gables bosom-friends way. Were you thinking of particular titles by them? Ally Carter’s (well… the single one I’ve read), while it didn’t play up the romance, didn’t really play up any other relationship, either. The one Libba Bray I’ve read (The Diviners) was a many-POV story with many different types of relationships; it did have a couple of friendships, but also some relationships, and no one was any more important than the others. And the 2.5 John Green novels I’ve read have all been romance-driven. That said, I haven’t read the rest of any of their stuff, so some of their other novels may fit better.

  5. I hope so, because it’s what my newest book is based on! I love romance, but it really bothered me that books were so focused on that relationship and then the token best friend always seemed to be boring or a frenemy or a device to make the MC feel bad about herself. I wanted to see one I really felt was about the evolution of a friendship, so I went ahead and wrote one :) The book I pinned the highest hopes on doing this was THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE, but ultimately, none of those friendships ever really clicked or felt genuine to me. I loved the premise, though!

    • Yay! I’m glad to hear you’re doing a friendship-driven novel, too, Dahlia. I’ll look forward to reading it once it’s published! :D

      And I agree, friends seem usually to be overlooked or downplayed or absent altogether… kinda like family often is. I guess it can be tricky to work these characters in to the plot in a way that doesn’t feel superfluous. I admit my early novels were all like that, too, lacking in strong, meaningful friendships. It’s only been the last couple that I feel I’ve gotten to the point as a writer that I can pull it off. They’re surprisingly hard to write well!

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