In the isolation of the past two years, I’ve come to realize something: My female friendships truly are a lifeline.
And yet I’ve spent the past two decades neglecting them.
It hasn’t been intentional. It’s just that, as a cisgender female, I was raised to believe that one day, I would meet my soul mate, fall in love, get married, and have children. At that point, my life would revolve around my spouse and child and, to a lesser extent, my job. Everything else would fall away.
And though I believe that the concept of soul mates is bullshit, that’s still pretty much how it played out for me. I met a guy, I got married, I had a child, and I reshaped my life to revolve around that child. And though I wanted to see my friends, I truly did, it always felt like the logistics were too hard. And my chaotic schedule was too…chaotic. And on top of that, I was exhausted.
Endless back-and-forths with friends resulted in quick coffee dates scheduled weeks into the future. If there were more than two of us, we sometimes had to resort to sending out a Doodle.
This isn’t specific to me. It’s a familiar story. With the societal diminishment and deprioritization of female friendships in the face of heterosexual romantic relationships, we often forget how essential those friendships are to our well-being. We minimize their role in our lives. And then? They fall away.
When the pandemic happened and I was stuck in the house with only my husband and child, I felt as if I were suffocating. It was at that point that something strange happened. I became more social than I’d ever been before (albeit via Zoom).
Female friends reached out to form virtual book clubs and writing groups. Female friends reached out to schedule regular video chats. When it felt safe to do so, female friends texted me about going on walks and having outdoor playdates with our children.
The playdates were really for us. As our children ran feral around our backyards, we sat six feet apart, sipped our beers, and checked in with each other. If I mentioned that I couldn’t find graham crackers at the market, multiple boxes would appear on my doorstep a day or two later. If I mentioned that my child was driving me bonkers, I’d receive an onslaught of links to activity ideas.
In long-running chat groups, we’d allow ourselves to fall apart. Oftentimes, we felt we couldn’t do so in front of our immediate families.
I didn’t read a huge amount of books that centered on female friendships before the pandemic, but I find that, in recent years, they hold greater appeal. Here are a few of my faves.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho, and Aubrey Aiese
Until recently, most of the books I read that centered on female friendships were comics. And this one was the first — the first friendship-focused book I loved and my first comic. This series is a favorite here at Book Riot, but just to recap, a group of campers comes to realize that the forest they’re in is host to a vast number of mythical creatures. Hijinks and supernatural adventures ensue. Most of the series stays close to the five campers staying in Roanoke Cabin, and the friendship they forge is just as essential to the plot as the magical beasties they discover.
Giant Days by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell
After getting hooked on Lumberjanes, I quickly discovered Giant Days. The series is about three very different women who meet at university and become fast friends. Again, there are hijinks, but this time, they’re of your average going-away-to-college sort of hijinks. You know. Reinventing yourself. Gaining a sense of independence. Figuring out who you are. Surviving life away from home. Obviously, individual survival is more likely when you have some close friends to keep you on track.
SLAM! by Pamela Ribon, Veronica Fish, Brittany Peer, and Jim Campbell
Once I exhausted the supply of trade paperbacks available in the previously-mentioned, long-running series, I turned to more limited series, like SLAM!, which is about two friends who get involved in roller derby, only to find themselves on opposing teams. I’ve long had a fascination with roller derby, even though I can barely stand upright on roller skates without hugging a wall. SLAM! allowed me to live vicariously through its characters, who also sort of sucked at the beginning, but who developed into absolute powerhouses. And as they learned the ins and outs of the sport, growing stronger on their skates, the strength of their friendship was also tested.
Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva, Irene Flores, Rebecca Nalty, and Jim Campbell
By this point, I realized I had a thing for comics about kickass girls kicking ass…together. So I picked up Heavy Vinyl next (originally titled Hi-Fi Fight Club), which gave me some major Empire Records vibes. The series takes place in late-’90s New Jersey, where the young protagonist has recently landed her dream job at a local record store. But things are not quite what they seem — they’re actually even cooler. It turns out Vinyl Mayhem is a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club! This comic is teen me wish fulfillment on so many levels, and it also features a group of young women who grow closer as they work, train, and eventually take down some big bads together.
Misfit City by Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten, Naomi Franquiz, Brittany Peer, and Jim Campbell
While the previous comic series took me right back to the ’90s, this one takes me all the way back to the ’80s — my favorite decade, at least as far as movies and music are concerned. This one gives a major nod to The Goonies in particular. It’s set in a town in which a movie called The Gloomies was filmed. I mean, really. ANYWAY. A group of female friends discovers that the story behind the film may actually be grounded in fact when they stumble upon an old treasure map. Can they track down the treasure before it falls into the wrong hands?
My Riot by Rick Spears and Emmett Hobbes
More recently, I received a copy of this one in the mail and I was immediately charmed. When My Riot opens, it’s 1991 and the young protagonist is chugging along through her average suburban life. But when a rookie police officer murders a Salvadorian man, sparking two days of rioting by Black and Latino youth in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C., she begins to question the path she’s expected to follow. At around this time, she meets the young woman who will become her best friend, and they start their own punk band. The rest of the graphic novel takes readers through a fictionalized accounting of the Riot Grrrl movement, with the bond between the members of this musical act at center stage.
The Return by Rachel Harrison
Lest you think I only read comics (not that there’s anything wrong with that), my most recent female friendship reads have been prose-only. Harrison in particular is so good at depicting female friendships on the page, and she does it in the midst of the most fun horror stories ever. The Return was her first novel and is about a friend who goes missing, only to come back…changed. But her more recent book, Cackle, also has a burgeoning friendship at the center of its story. That and witchcraft. I can’t wait until her next one, which isn’t out until the fall, which feels unfair.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades
Okay. I read this one when it came out this past January, and it is a stunner. This is written in the first person plural, in a Greek chorus of brown girls who are growing up in Queens, New York. It’s about everything from childhood to female friendships to race to the tug of war between ambition and loyalty. It is about home. It is about family. It is about being a woman. But most of all, it is about being a brown girl who is struggling to find her way in the world.
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
And finally, we have my most recent friendship-focused read. I’ve mentioned this book before, in a post about horror in which the supernatural takes a back seat, but I need to give it a shout-out here, too. In Barry’s book, a field hockey team turns to witchcraft in order to turn around a long-running losing streak. But all of this is secondary to the individual story of each girl: who they are, how they relate to each other as friends, and how they relate to the world around them. Have they really harnessed black magic in order to become a winning team? It’s hard to say. But I don’t mind not knowing. Learning about this tight-knit group, and about their everyday lives, is far more interesting.
And there you have it. My favorite books about female friendships. If this list didn’t give you nearly enough to read in the realm of not-comics, I invite you to check out this list of 12 more female friendship books.