The Friendship Dilemma

Dearest Reader,

As this month’s theme is love, I bring to you a post about friendship, a platonic love but still love, a topic that YA novels do not consider in as much detail or with as much focus as they should (in my opinion). Today’s post will reveal my great concern about a group of YA characters who figure prominently in most novels and yet, are the most overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Yes, I am talking about the often suffering, often killed Best Friend of the Female Protagonist.

First though, we must define what a best friend is and to do that, I present to you this meme:


(http://www.the-joke-box.com/pictures/friend-vs-best-friend.jpg)

A best friend is someone who gets you, who loves you despite the fact that you share no blood, with whom you are soul sisters (or brothers or um siblings, we will NOT talk about how male best friends (for girls) are boyfriends in disguise, thank you) and all that jazz. She knows and keeps your secrets and she has your back. But this is not a one way street – unless, of course, you are the protagonist of a young adult novel. Let’s talk about the Best Friends in YA novels.

They come in two sizes.

Either they are beautiful, much more beautiful (charming, rich, interesting) than the protagonist OR they are chubby, not so attractive (their status as Best Friend prevents the use of the word “ugly”) as the protagonist. They can’t be somewhat attractive, oh no, for them, extremes are a way of life. Oh and more often than not, they are not very picky when it comes to the opposite sex so they are much more confident than the protagonist which functions in two important ways:

1. It contrasts them with the protagonist and builds up the moral character of the protagonist. Presenting the preserved virgin who shines only brighter in her lily-whiteness when placed next to the scarlet woman of scarlet morals.

2. It reconfirms the age old myth that chaste women get their happy endings while the sexually liberated women don’t get endings at all. They get pauses and abrupt extinction. Sometimes they don’t even make it to the last chapter. :\

Sometimes they get their boyfriends stolen.

Especially if that boyfriend is not an Ex yet. It’s just not done. However, the Poor Best Friend somehow always ends up becoming the bad girl in this love triangle. She’s just not good enough for the SuperAwesomeJockBoy and ends up boyfriendless, bestfriendless and almost certainly consigned to Mean Girl status for the rest of the book, if she doesn’t die first, of course. That is always a distinct possibility.

Being a best friend is hazardous to a person’s life.

If there is a vampire wandering around, chances are it’s your neck he is going to chomp on next. Werewolf? Guess who gets bitten? Black hole that sucks people in? Well, you always wanted to experience a vacuum cleaner. A sacrifice? You look good in white – sacrificial white, that is. Twist needed to provide pathos and tragedy in a protagonist’s life? Bye bye Best Friend. The Best Friend goes through all manner of horrific incidents just to build the character of the protagonist. He/She has been raped, murdered, been in an accident, trampled by a camel (okay not really but give it time, it’ll happen). No matter what the process, the result is always the same: Dead Best Friend.

The Protagonist Makes a Terrible Best Friend

Here’s the thing about Protagonists in YA novels. As soon as the Love Interest appears, their brain cells seem unable to work to keep two people at the same importance level. No, the Poor Best Friend slides several rungs down. The Love Interest who didn’t even know of the Protagonist’s existence until yesterday in Biology Class somehow becomes the center of the Protagonist’s life and the Best Friend who has been by the Protagonist’s side since forever, who has stood by her, who has listened to the sob stories again and again is somehow consigned to the margins. There’ll be broken promises, there’ll be an underestimation of the Best Friend’s intelligence (she’ll never believe/understand/accept but HE will). She’ll be stood up, ignored (sometimes for her own good) and while the protagonist might protest that it is all for the good of the Best Friend, you and I both know that THAT is simply not how the cookie crumbles.

It makes one wonder why the Best Friend is even friends with the Protagonist.

I love how Best Friends in novels are not treated as people in their own right but as accessories whose existence hinges on the Protagonists. I give you a conversation between two Protagonists of YA Novels:

“Ooo, what’s that shiny new thing twirling around you?”
“It’s my new best friend!”
“Fantastic! How’s she working out for you?”
“Oh lovely, always around to love me, cheer me on, hold my hand and I don’t have to return the favour. Ever!”
“Any cons to this set up?”
“Short shelf life. But hey, I can always replace her!”
“I want one!

In conclusion, if someone offers you the best friend position and there are suspicious elements like werewolves, vampires and stuff around, decline. And move to Canada. We only have sasquatches. (And they don’t sparkle in the sun.)

15 responses to “The Friendship Dilemma

  1. That’s the one thing that bugged me about Sister Light, Sister Dark; as soon as the protagonist’s Dark Sister finally shows up, the best friend kinda gets thrown under the prophecy bus.

  2. This is another reason you need to read Untold- because Brennan just breaks the mould. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there is a good chance the bestie may die in the third one- but so far so good, you know?

  3. Sometimes the Bestie comes back…and sometimes even as a Vampire/Werewolf/etc they remember to like their best friend.
    I love P.C. Cast’s “House of Night” series because the protagonist’s original best friend turns out to be a man stealing slutbag (pardon my verbage) but the new bff dies, turns into a new kind of vampire, and shows major growth. They fight, but the best friend and their other ‘group’ members turn into majors on their own.

    I may have to use the camel bit if I wind up writing a formula YA novel. So far I haven’t killed anyone in my Dragon Saga books…but I am working on number 4 right now…anything could happen! :D

    http://www.facebook.com/TyreeTomes
    http://alaynabellesmom.wordpress.com

  4. What a great post, Nafiza! Although I have to say, I think I’d add one more category to your list of YA Best Friend Extremes: the completely wild and “out there” friend. You know, the one who’s not beautiful/perfect, nor is she chubby/awkward/ugly. She’s the one with all the tattoos and piercings and spiked blue hair, etc.

  5. I totally agree with everything above.
    But you know what I also hate? Is the best friend that, the moment anything dramatic starts happening to the protagonist, turns into an ununderstanding, raging a-hole. And they bail. Again, best friend has no agency of their own, they’re just there to be a plot point for ‘everybody is against me!’ in the protagonist’s life. But I still don’t like it. It just doesn’t make sense to me because that is not a best friend! But yeah, YA (and some other fiction) does a really bad job of showing best friends

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