Literary Girlfriends: The Valentines We Never Throw Out
Last week, we celebrated that holiday of holidays (it’s not really a holy day in my mind) where gifts are bought, we rot our teeth with candy, and anyone on the single path is bombarded by their singleness at every turn.
Note: Being single is awesome. I’m not saying it’s not. But when you’re single, and you actively want to be in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is pretty much like Slapsgiving for an entire day.
This year I got to thinking about the real loves of my life: my friends. And that got me thinking about all the great books I’ve read that celebrate female friendship. Some are heartwarming and sweet. Some are darker, deeper and really make you think about what makes a good friend. And some I haven’t picked up since middle school but they left such a lasting impression that I still have them on my shelves, and I cart them around the country as I move from city to city.
Here are just a couple of titles that I feel celebrate the female friendship and how vital it is to health and happiness:
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
I read this book for the first time in high school. I’ve since used and abused my way through three copies of it as it’s become a regular beach read for me every single year. Ms. Blume, our HelloGiggles favorite, describes the delicate balance of the toxic friend, nostalgia and life experience over the course of twenty years on Martha’s Vineyard and around the country. Vix and Caitlin are best friends – sisters – from the age of twelve when the wealthy Caitlin invites Vix, a classmate from a significantly different socioeconomic background, to summer with her and her family on Martha’s Vineyard. While the ensuing years of friendship, love, betrayal, heartache and happiness illustrate the vastly different places the girls come from, they also show the numerous ways that girls with seemingly nothing in common can become best friends. I still read this book every year, and if you haven’t ventured from the YA selection Judy Blume has written, this is a great place to start.
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I was one of those kids who inhaled books. We’d go to a bookstore twenty minutes from home, I’d beeline to the kid’s section, grab the latest of one of these series, and sit on the floor until a parent came to find me. Usually, by the time we got home, I’d finished whatever book I had gotten. It helped that these books were relatively easy to read and short in terms of length. Both series feature groups of girls who travel through adolescence around a common theme: horseback riding in one and baby-sitting in the other. While the girls have this one thing in common, the authors make a distinct effort to differentiate with personality, socioeconomic, education and physical differences. Every series has someone you can relate to and the trials they experience as preteens and then teenagers are always couched in the reality that they are the best of friends and always have each other’s backs. It takes all my self control not to box these up and send them to my nieces right now.
Best Friends by Martha Moody
Like Summer Sisters, Best Friends features a pair of drastically different young women who meet as teenagers (college roommates this time) and essentially come into adulthood together despite their differences. What has always struck me about this novel is the darker themes Moody presents to the reader that are almost always conflict that the characters experience separately but safe in the knowledge that they have each other to fall back on. Perhaps I read it at just the right moment in my life, only a year or two after losing a parent, but as these characters reach maturity and the realities of life – like the humanity and mortality of parents – I saw truths about my own friendships reflected.
Not every book features the best of girlfriends. Some books I’ve loved and cherish have “guy’s girls” who are only friends with men, or plots that simply don’t highlight the women in a female protagonist’s family or community. But as I spent Valentine’s Day hanging out with one of my girlfriends – someone I’ve only known a few months but who is already wrapped up my story with surprising depth and complexity – I was reminded that singleness doesn’t always mean “alone”.
To me it just means I’m strengthening the muscles that build healthy relationships. Someday in the future, I might spend a Valentine’s Day fielding flower deliveries, gorging on chocolates and staring into my partner’s eyes over a poorly lit, really expensive meal. For now, I’m happy hanging with my girlfriends and strengthening the bonds that can last forever.