BFFs & Frenemies: Top 10 Books about Friendship

My novel-in-progress, Monkey See, is about the very unlikely friendship that forms between my protagonist, Danior and a spider monkey named Chacho who are drawn together when they take part in a clinical trial. Attempting to ward off Alzheimer’s by enhancing memory, the trial affects them in unexpected ways and they come to realise no one else will ever quite be able to understand them the way they understand each other. Writing it has made me think about other wonderful books which explore friendship.

Australian Childhoods

In Sophie Laguna’s The Choke, Justine is a child being raised in a man’s world of poverty, alcoholism and violence. Her only friend is Michael, a classmate with disabilities who is also a social outcast, and their beautiful friendship is one of the few joys in Justine’s life.

Jenny Ackland’s Little Gods is the story of Olive, a gutsy 12-year-old who believes an older boy has hurt a member of her family.  She ropes in her long-suffering friend Peter to help her enact her revenge.

Joan London’s The Golden Age is a gorgeous tale of the friendship that forms between two children in a polio hospital in the 1950s.

Teenage Bonds

Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones explores racism in small-town Australia through the relationship between 13 year-old Charlie Bucktin and his Asian best friend Jeffrey Lu. Charlie & Jeffrey have the best banter!

In Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling, Turtle aka Kibble is a motherless loner with a troubled relationship with her father. When she stumbles across two teenage boys who are lost in the woods*, the friendship that follows puts all their lives at risk. *Also featuring ridiculously excellent banter.

In Jesse Andrew’s hilarious Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, Greg–a dorky Jewish kid—and Earl—a black kid from the wrong side of the tracks—form an unlikely bond over their shared love of obscure cult films and their attempts to remake them. And yes, their banter is second to none.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is a coming-of-age story of four boys on a Native American reservation who have to grow up fast when a heinous crime is committed against the protagonist’s mother.

Into Adulthood

The only non-fiction book on my list, Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty is a memoir of her sometimes difficult friendship with writer Lucy Grealey. Clear-sighted and touching on friendship, it is also a wonderful account of the early career of one of my favourite writers.

In Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue Two old friends run a record shop, while their wives deliver babies together. Friendship, business, kids, affairs—how would we get through adulthood without our friends?

Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is the story of Jude & JB and Willem & Malcolm, who meet at university and remain friends as their careers take off. The friendship is important to all of them, but to orphaned Jude, who had the most traumatic childhood it is possible to imagine, they are a life line.

Books by women 6/10 (happy with that)

Books by writers of colour 2/10 (try harder!)

Cultural cringe count: 4/10 Australian books (could do better)

Your turn:

what are your favourite books about friendship?

9 thoughts on “BFFs & Frenemies: Top 10 Books about Friendship

  1. Your WIP sounds wonderful – friendship set in a strange scenario.
    Is it lame to say Charlotte’s Web as a favourite book on friendship? I read it very young, I think the first book I read on my own, and it really affected me.
    I also love The Spare Room by Helen Garner. It captures a more complicated friendship, yet still shows the depth of love and compassion one friend can have for another.

    1. Thank you! No, Charlotte’s Web is not a lame choice at all – childhood books do friendship really well. Make me think I should have said Anne of green Gables because she had such an intense friendship with her ‘bosom friend’ Diana. The Spare Room is a good choice in its reflection of mature friendship. Thanks for commenting.

  2. As you know, I loved A Little Life for its take on the powers (and limitations) of friendship. I’d also agree with your choice of Jasper Jones (Charlie and Jeffrey’s friendship is a joy to behold) and The Golden Age, another beauty.

    My first choice would be Anne of Green Gables, and the friendship between Anne and her bosom friend and kindred spirit Diana Barry, as well as the friendship-that-blossoms-into-love between Anne and Gilbert Blythe.

    I also loved the friendships depicted in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which reflects the concept that our differences and our similarities can combine to create lasting friendships, and those friendships can help us face adversity with strength and purpose.

    And I agree with Fiona’s suggestion of Charlotte’s Web — the relationship between Charlotte and Wilbur was literally life-saving.

    1. Anne of Green Gables! You somehow find a way to put it on every list! Have you been watching Anne with an E on Netflix? so gorgeous. I love the depiction of Anne and Diana’s friendship. I haven’t read TGLAPPPS – sounds like a nice exploration of friendship.

  3. Had to think hard about this. The friendships in “The Golden Age” and “Jasper Jones” would be on my list too, along with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and Daniel and Fermin in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “Shadow of the Wind”. Less known is Shamini Flint’s “The Undone Years”, where Matthew, son of an English planter, and Rajan, son of the father’s clerk, endure the privations of Japanese occupation of Malaya/Singapore as well as their mutual love of Mei Ling.

    1. Ooh a love triangle between friends, always a winner. That is a little bit like the very competitive friendship between Jimmy and Crake in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I loved Shadow of the Wind but can’t remember a thing about it now. Nice to hear from you, Mike. Are you writing?

      1. Sorry for slow reply, Annabelle.
        Yes, love triangles between friends make a good read, especially when both are noble souls – it ends in tears, of course. Haven’t read Oryx & Crake, but you’ve prodded me.
        And no, I’m not writing creatively, though keep meaning to. Reading is more fun, but I do have several chapters of a novel sitting on hold. Am still working full time, which – as you know- takes it out of you.

  4. Oops, I was travelling – visiting our first grandson in Melbourne – when you posted this. A great selection of books here.

    A friendship that I think was really well handled is one in your list – Jasper Jones. I loved Charlie and Jeffrey’s banter, too. Stephen Orr’s Incredible floridas has a complex set of adult and neighbour friendships.

    Jane Austen has some interesting female friendships – Emma and Harriet Smith (Emma), Anne Elliot and Mrs Smith (not a bit role but Anne’s support of her ailing friend tells of her character, Persuasion), Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas (Pride and prejudice). Some are rivals for affection – Elinor Dashwood being “befriended” by Lucy Steele (Sense and sensibility), the flight manipulative Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey). I could go on and on – so many friendships, real and superficial, in her books. She has male friendships too, most notably Darcy and Bingley (in P&P), the naval “brother officer” friendships (in Persuasion).

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