As a person who looks at the characters and only then at the plot, it’s no surprise that I care deeply about the characters’ relationship with others. I love reading about family dynamics and about romantic pairings, but friendships in books take the cake for me. 🍰 As such, it makes me extremely glad that friendships have slowly but surely taken an important place in fiction, including in YA fiction. 😊
Despite adoring friendships in books, there are certain dynamics and tropes I dislike… and just as many that I absolutely adore. As such, today I’m sharing the best and worst types of friendships in books.
The Dynamic Between the Main and Supporting Character(s)
This might be the most basic point of this post, but I think it’s important to highlight, nonetheless. If there is an incredibly strong sidekick + main character dynamic between the friends, it probably won’t work for me. By sidekick, I refer to characters who (1) are present only so the protagonist can say they have a best friend, (2) are only included for comic relief, (3) disappear conveniently when the plot doesn’t require their presence, or (4) are easy target for the author to kill off.
We all know that books have main and supporting characters, and that’s not the issue; in fact, some of my all time favorite characters are supporting characters. Granted, Martin from The Magnus Archives is not a book character, but I’d protect him at all cost, and he’s ‘merely’ a supporting character. The thing is – even though the focus is decidedly not on these types of characters, they can be just as fleshed out and well-written as the protagonist. Sidekicks on the other hand are just that – a sidekick to the protagonist with no real personality of their own.
Conflicts Between the Friends
Rereading the Hunger Games has really driven home the fact that I hate toxic friendships, especially when that toxicity is not called out. (If it’s addressed and worked out, that’s a different matter altogether!) Throughout the series, we see Gale manipulate Katniss as he tries to control what she does and who she chooses to be with. Not only is this behavior not called out, but much of the series is spent with Katniss trying to be a good friend to Gale. Even when certain faults of Gale are addressed at the end, I just wasn’t satisfied with the way this “friendship” was written.
What I do like, however, is when a friendship is imperfect and messy, but this is written in a thoughtful, meaningful way. In real life, many friends argue; they have conflicts, and then they work things out. I love to see the more imperfect parts of friendship, especially in Young Adult books. A good example is Uprooted – it’s never a question that Agnieszka and Kasia love each other, but they are not always on the same page and they even get jealous of each other. It happens, the important thing is that they recognize this as problematic, grow as individuals and thus their friendship is also able to mature.
Romance & Friendship
You may think that I’m going to talk about friends to lovers couples, but I have no problem with that trope; I actually think it’s pretty wholesome. 🥰 What I do have a problem with is when friends who have little to no chemistry with each other are pushed together to create drama in the novel. Thankfully, I haven’t seen this dynamic recently, but boy, was it a prominent part of older YA novels! Look at Clary and Simon from The Mortal Instruments; it was clear that they wouldn’t end up together, and yet, they were pushed together to create a love triangle. (We shall not talk about the fact that on the other side of this love triangle is a guy Clary believes to be her brother… for two whole books. 🤮)
Another trope I hate is when friends don’t have time for each other because they’re dating someone. It feels terribly unrealistic that someone in a healthy relationship would abandon their friends completely and claim that they have no time for them, because of their significant other. Again, I think books from recent years have been wonderful at disproving this.
Family and Friends
I have a soft spot for found families made up of friends. 🥺 They’re so wholesome and lovely, and they get bonus points if the characters seem to not fit together easily. I also love it when one of the protagonists’ has a wonderful family that ends up “adopting” the protagonist’s friend(s) that don’t have a (good) family of their own. 🥺 It’s beautiful when someone who never had this kind of love finds it with friends.
They actually have nothing to do with family, but I love long-distance friendships, and I didn’t know where to put them. 😅 Soo… Moving on to them! As someone who’s had really incredible online friends, I do believe that long-distance friendships work, even if you’ve never met these friends. We see this in Talia Hibbert’s A Girl Like Her, where Ruth has a close friend she met online. A more recent example is Beach Read, where the protagonist lives pretty far away from her best friend and they’re only able to see each other sporadically. Yet, when trouble strikes, these friends are there for each other – either online or offline, in whichever way it is possible.
What type of relationships do you care about the most in books: family, friendship, or romance? What are your favorite types of friendships in books? What about your least favorites? Any positive examples I should know about?