Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: My Favorite Friendships

I’m often struck by how beautifully written friendships are in YA. In fact, they are often much more important and detailed than any other personal relationships – dating or family. I suppose it makes sense, since the teen years are a time when we practice separating from our family and are only just learning how to date, that our friendships wold take on primary importance.

Far and away my favorite YA friendship is the one between (capital letters) Will Grayson and Tiny Cooper in John Green and David Levithan’s co-authored Will Grayson, Will Grayson. It is beautiful and sincere and touching as well as hilarious and full of mischief. Will and Tiny are in high school but have been best friends since elementary. It’s hard to explain what is so magical about this relationship. I can only sum it up by saying “Everyone should have a friend like Tiny Cooper.” It’s funny to me that this relationship is almost exclusively portrayed in the John Green written parts of the novel, since I think of David Levithan as being the master of the teenage friendship. Not that John Green is a slacker. Anyway, read it, will you please? Then come back and tell me your favorite part.

Speaking of David Levithan, I can’t leave out his amazing Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. Dash, while described by everyone in the book who meets him as being ‘snarly,’ has a good number of close friends whose fondness for him bely his outward appearance. My favorite of his friendships is with his long-term friend Boomer. Yes, that’s a nickname, but it’s also a description of his personality. Boomer is described as being like a somewhat exciteable retriever. Always bouncing all over the place, and not quite the sharpest knife in the drawer. I love how, even though their paths have diverged widely since they became friends (to call Dash an intellectual would be putting it mildly) Dash regards his friend with the utmost warmth and respect. And you can tell that Boomer feels this deeply, though he only plays a minor role in the novel.

Hidden within the comedic genius of Sarah Rees Brennan’s trope-twisting gothic mystery, Unspoken, is one of the most beautiful, loving girl friendships I’ve ever read. Kami and Angela are almost polar opposites, drawn together by their outsider status, but kept together by their solid love and affection (and their willingness to not just put up with, but embrace, each others idiosyncrasies.) Even though it’s Jared with whom Kami has had a psychic bond since infancy, it’s Angela I can’t imagine her without. I’d expect nothing less from Brennan, however, who is a world-class champion of girl friendships.

Someone Like You may very well have been the first YA novel I read after my move from the elementary library to middle school. I know it was definitely one of the first, and it is the only one I remember from my first whirlwind year learning to cope with the broad span of readers in middle school. My students were somewhat more life savvy than I had been at that age, and were very ready for books involving teenage pregnancy. This is one of the best out there, even after all this time I look to it to appeal to some of my most dedicated non-readers, looking for a story that seems real to them. My favorite thing about it is that it is told through the lens of the friendship between pregnant Scarlett and her BFF Haley, who stands by her side throughout the most difficult experience of either of their young lives.

I hesitate a little to claim that the relationship between narrator Austin Szerba and his best friend Robby Brees is a simple friendship. If you’ve read the book, in Austin’s own words, “You know what I mean.” But, fundamentally, beneath everything else, there is the solid love and affection of friendship that Austin and Robby have for each other. Whether they are suffering the abuse of the brainless jocks who beat them up in the alley they refer to as Grasshopper Jungle, sharing smokes while they contemplate the disastrous lives of the adults they know, or defending the world from an invasion of six foot tall praying mantises, Robby and Austin depend on one another in a beautiful and compelling way.

I highly recommend each of these books for their individual merit, although I think probably only Dash & Lily is what I would refer to as an ‘almost everybody’ book. Each, however, is a beautiful example of the strong emphasis YA places on friendship.

Book Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

This is the book where Sarah Rees Brennan makes you laugh a lot; you’re having the best time then she rips your heart out and grinds it into a bloody pulp in the lush woods of Sorry-in-the-Vale under the heal of her boot and you say thank you because it is a glorious reading experience!

Background: I recently attended the Autsin Teen Book Festival and, as I am often inclined to do, I kept walking up to complete strangers and asking them who they were here to see and why.  Everyone does that, right?  I was surprised when several teenage boys and men said they were there to see Sara Rees Brennan, her book covers seems so girly.  But yep, that’s who they were there to see.  So I bought a signed copy of Unspoken and began reading it.

The first thing you should know is that despite the fact that this is a ya paranormal, I laughed out loud a lot.  I had to stop and read several passages out loud to The Mr. when he gave me sideways glances about how loudly I was laughing.  In fact, I give unto Ms. Brennan and honorary award for Most Hilarious Romeo and Juliet reference. Read pages 69 and 70. Also, bonus points because Kami goes to the library to do research and this is also a fun scene: “Can you tell me where I could find books on Satanism?” Twenty minutes later, she had Dorothy convinced that it was for a school project, and she really did not have to telephone Kami’s parents (p. 43)  So that’s two random completely made up awards, Best Romeo and Juliet Reference and Best Library Scene.  Don’t worry Sarah, your awards are “in the mail.”

“Hark,” he said, his tone very dry. “What stone through yonder window breaks?” 

Here’s the gist of the story: Kami is this awesome girl (I love her and her confidence and want my daughter to read books with female characters like her) who wants to be an investigative reporter.  Think Veronica Mars.  She is feisty, fun and generally self-confident (though plagued to be the daughter and BFF of apparently truly beautiful women).  She also has spent her entire life speaking to an imaginary friend in her head, which can make for some awkward situations. Diversity note: Kami is a multicultural main character. Bonus points.

Kami lives in Sorry-in-the-Vale, a place full of secrets that generally surround the Lynburn family who have – surprise! – suddenly returned.  Naturally, Kami wants to get all the scoop. As she investigates she is drawn into a paranormal mystery that puts her and the people she loves in danger.  The Lynburn family really don’t want their secrets told.
“If I wasn’t going to be a world-famous journalist and if I didn’t have such respect for truth and justice, I could be an amazing master criminal.” 

There are two components in Unspoken that will knock your socks off: the setting and the friendships.
Sorry-in-the-Vale is an atmospheric place full of haunting woods, crying pools and gothic castles, which is of course the Lynburn manner.  Here Brennan continues an awesome trend I am currently seeing in these gothic tales that look at more traditional forms of magic as opposed to more fantastical forms of magic seen in things like Harry Potter. In Sorry-in-the-Vale, the very earth may move to trap you and shadows hold strong connections between souls.

As for the friendships, Kami surrounds herself with an “intrepid” group of reports that include her best friend Angela, a girl named Holly and two of the very people that she may be investigating, Ash and Jared Lynburn.  The group comes together hesitantly, swayed in part by Kami’s charm and enthusiasm.  However, each character comes to play an important role and are really a lot of fun in their own ways.  Angela is a fun, if not somewhat lethargic, best friend.  She is a champion napper.
Kami’s family is also fun (and a whole family to boot!).  This is the only stumbling blog that I came across.  When Kami goes home and interacts with her family, they are fun and quippy, but at times their voices become interchangeable, particularly Kami and her father.  You can chock it up to being a part of the same family, but when others characters have such strong voices it is hard to see these voices blend so easily.  They are without a doubt fun scenes to read, I am just not sure they are the strongest scenes here which is unfortunate because it is great seeing a fun, healthy, dynamic family in ya lit.
There is some swoon factor here, of course, and it is done fairly well.  There is, in fact, lots of magnetism and romantic possibilities for various characters.  And then there is the end; the jaw dropping what the heck did you just do to me Sarah Rees Brennan end.  SPOILER ALERT: This is a FANTASTIC ending! It is a brave and bold and holy crap she just did not do that ending.  Here our characters are walking down path A, they have a touching, heartfelt moment and then – boom! – one of our characters steps onto path B, and it looks to be an awesome new direction.  It is gut wrenching.  Joss Whedon has said that he doesn’t give his viewers what they want, but what they need, which is such a bold form of storytelling.  Brennan engages in some bold storytelling here and it will sweep the feet out from under you. Also, I can’t say it enough – funny and great voice, teens will love it.
There is so much more I want to tell you about this book, but I don’t want to spoil you.  Don’t be spoiled! You’ll hate yourself in the morning.

4 out of 5 stars for this funny, fantastic read. Highly recommended. And although The Sunnydale Project is over, this would definitely go on my list of recommended reads for Buffy fans.  Leave a comment with an e-mail address and you’ll be entered to win my signed copy of Unspoken, which I will give up with tears – but it is for the cause of books!  U.S. people only please and leave your comment by Friday, November 2nd.