Friendship isn’t an easy thing to put into words—that’s why we have great writers. And between Emily Gould’s Friendship and Lena Dunham’s upcoming essay collection, the literary spotlight is shining on young, female writers with insight on what it means to be a friend. Both Gould and Dunham pay special attention to the trials and tribulations of BFFs in their work. And they’re not the only ones. While you’re still chipping away at your summer reading list, we’ve compiled a line-up of some of the best best-friend stories to be found in literature. After all, the significant others may drift in and out of one’s life (and library), but true-blues stick around.
Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?
In her genre-bending meditation on artistic crisis, Sheila Heti follows the great friendship of Margaux, a painter, and Sheila, a writer. Perhaps because these characters are presumably based on the author and her best friend, Margaux and Sheila’s dialogue is consistently crackling and honest. The fabric of this book is transcribed conversations between the two women, during which M and S muse about art’s power to affect change. Half diary, half couch philosophy, this book is a should-read for anyone with a creative soulmate. It’s like every fervent conversation you had in college.
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Trilogy
I’ve already sung the praises of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels on every platform that will have me, but I can’t stop reading the story of Lila and Elena—and thankfully, I don’t have to. The third installment of this magnetic trilogy hits stores September 2nd. These two BFFs have a relationship fraught with envy, admiration and fierce loyalty. The setting of their drama—a post-war Naples—is equally complicated. Ferrante’s rendering of lady-pals is honest above all things. Anyone who’s ever had a frenemy will absolutely relate.
Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew books
Now wait, wait, hear me out: If you think that Nancy Drew is an adolescent YA series, and that her blonde bob has gone out of fashion with the times, you are wrong on both counts. Ever-courageous, ever-keen, Nancy remains a role model for all intelligent teenyboppers. And she rarely went anywhere without the company of her BFFs and partners-in-crime.
Zadie Smith’s NW
Ms. Smith’s latest novel is not exactly about a thriving female friendship, but two of the protagonists in this winding love-letter to a London neighborhood do anchor the story. Leah and Natalie (nee Keisha) are complete opposites; the former’s a party girl, the latter’s a bookworm—as well as the only one from her group who’s managed to claw her way out of childhood poverty into a plum job. Like Ferrante, Smith examines the grim underside of a long friendship, the jealousy, and distance that can grow between people.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
There’s an abundance of great female friendships in Victorian novels (for instance, Elizabeth Bennett and Charlotte Lucas come to mind), but I think the story of Jo March and her sisters is the most poignant. (Not least because Jo doesn’t do the bummer thing and pick a boy over her ladies.) But seriously folks, Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth have now become iconic types, and for good reason. These adventurous and loving sisters are a quartet for the books.
Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Renee and Paloma have one of the odder friendships in contemporary literature. Renee is a cranky landlady; Paloma is a brainy teenage tenant with a grim suicide mission in the works. In this sweet, funny, and incisive story, a few lonely people find ways to save one another.
Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Now this is a story we all know, one way or another—but consider taking a second look at Maguire’s disruptive novel. Following the earnest oddball Elphaba and her unlikely best friend (the sparkly Galinda), this is another story about opposites attracting.
Honorable mentions go to: Mary McCarthy’s The Group, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Anyone else have favorite friendship stories to share? Post below!
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