In a world that loves to underplay the strength and the possibility of female solidarity, and tells women that they have to constantly compete with one another for a place in the nook that women are supposed to occupy in intellectual and political spheres, cultivating and nurturing strong female friendships is an act of rebellion. Trust Leslie Knope, TV feminist extraordinaire, to understand the importance of celebrating female friendships. If there is one pop culture phenomenon that deserves to be an actual annual celebration, it is Galentine’s Day – a day when we ladies celebrate the other amazing ladies in our lives.
While literature is replete with authors taking the traditional route and pitting their women characters against one another, or making them mere props to the adventures of their male protagonists, we also have books that center female friendships. There are many books, from diverse genres, that show how wholesome female friendships can thrive, not just as awesome twosomes, but also as boisterous groups. As a young reader, I loved these girl gang stories for their relatively accommodating attitude towards misfits. Now I appreciate the importance of these stories in countering patriarchal myths about relationships between women, thoroughly enjoy the diverse casts of female characters, and feel grateful for the warmth and solidity of the friendships of my girlfriends. In the spirit of Galentine’s Day, here are some of my favorite bookish girl gangs:
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The March sisters might have had very different personalities, but they had so much fun together! Each of them is strong in her own way, and they were always there for one another. When I read the sequels to Little Women in school, I was disappointed at the rather traditional turn that the lives of the sisters took. The brilliant adaptation by Greta Gerwig has assuaged the disappointment, by hinting at the real lives of Louisa May Alcott and her sisters, who probably made an even more striking girl gang than their fictional counterparts.
Mila, Riley, June, and Dayton
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
This book is a heady cocktail of teen drama, mystery, friendship and raising the dead. Mila and Riley are already best friends at the beginning of the book, but the friendship between them and “mean girls” Dayton and June that develops over the course of the story is very satisfying to read. Their conversations are super fun, and the story manages to effectively touch upon subjects like racism and body positivity. Given that three of its four members are walking dead, this is about as unique as girl gangs can get.
The Inhabitants of the May of Teck Club
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
The roommates from when we first start living independently are special, and women have often found a safe, free space in shared accommodation. Authors have also tapped into the possibilities of female flatshares, and it is quite the literary niche. The Girls of Slender Means is set in a women’s hostel in 1945, mostly occupied by impecunious young working women waiting for better opportunities to present themselves. The girls (and some older inhabitants) have very interesting personalities. Muriel Spark is characteristically unsentimental, and does not explicitly talk about the relationships among the women, but from what we do see, we know that theirs is a happy coexistence. They trade dresses, soaps, and food coupons, are proud of one member’s ‘brain work’ and another’s elocution skills, count calories together and complain about the fattening food at the hostel. The book in itself is a brilliant read, condensing the essence of the times into a very sleek novel, the acerbic wit not letting the reader prepare for the shocking climax.
I also asked my fellow Rioters about their favorite literary girl gangs, and here is what some of them had to say:
Esther, Bet, Leda, Amity, and Cye
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
As far as girl gangs go, a group of fascist-fighting librarians is hard to beat. This group, including nonbinary members of the gang like Cye, are the definition of ride-or-die, crossing the country by wagon in a future where fascism has taken over and librarians do what they’ve always done best: make a difference.
Tessa, Beth, Anita, and the other Daughters of Harriet
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
Real friends travel through time to fight the patriarchy – you heard it here first. This twisty time-traveling adventure features multiple friend groups in multiple places and time periods, struggling to survive the ever-changing world they live in and maybe even change it for the better along the way. They’re complicated and rough around the edges, and I love every single one of them.
Mel, Phoebe, Ali, Grace, Luci, and Kearson
We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian
As part of the Wildcats, a kick-ass varsity team in the novel, the girls and girl power comes front and center in this story. While they all come to the team from different backgrounds and with very different goals, this edgy contemporary shows us the great thing that can happen when a group of gals get together to fight for what’s fair. In a story that goes back and forth between the night before the first game and the girls’ memories of what happened to each of them since the events of the last game, the plot unfolds to prove that first of all, their powerhouse Coach isn’t really what he seems to be and that at the end of the day, they really do not need his validation or to look up to him anymore anyways. It’s a great, and quick read, that will surely have you cheering for the Wildcats and their connection all the way to the end.
Erin, MacKenzie, KJ, and Tiffany
Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
This comic book series follows the adventures of the pioneering first paper delivery girls of a fictional suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, in the early 1980s. Starting with the stakes of a post-Halloween night early morning delivery route (when tricksters are notoriously still lingering), the comic quickly takes a sharp turn into the wild and fantastical. But from time travel to aliens to tech conspiracies, the girls are tough, complex, well-rounded, and always have one anothers’ backs.
For more books about female friendships, or last minute gift ideas for your Galentines, check out our Galentine’s Day archives!