Everybody thinks of February as the month of romantic love, but it’s the month of platonic love, as well. Though it doesn’t take up three entire aisles in CVS, February is National Friendship Month, so hurrah! Kisses on the cheek and not-too-tight hugs for everyone!
Rather than sending an e-card to all your best friends to thank them for their friendship (which is totally weird), celebrate National Friendship Month with one of the books below. These 10 novels all accurately depict friendship as the complex, tender, wonderful beast it is.
1. Kay, Mary, Dottie, Elinor, Libby, Helena, Priss and Polly in The Group by Mary McCarthy
Before Sex and the City and Girls, there was The Group. In fact, Candace Bushnell actually wrote Sex and the City after her editor suggested she write a “modern-day version of The Group.” But trust me when I say that this 1963 novel is far better than the petulant whines of a 30-something sex column writer. Oh, and there are zero sentences that start with the phrase, “Later that day, I got to thinking ….”
The Group details the lives of eight female friends, all from Vassar College’s class of 1933, following them post graduation. Despite their impressive liberal arts educations and their strong ambitions, all the women find themselves lacking direction. (Sounds eerily similar to another series currently on HBO, doesn’t it?) The novel spans seven years, offering an expansive look into the sororal bond of these women as they navigate everything from sexism in the workplace, to marriage, to child-raising, to financial difficulties, to losing their virginity. (Not necessarily in that order.)
2. Sheila and Margaux in How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
After divorcing her husband, Sheila, a 20-something playwright, is introduced to Margaux, a talented painter who instantly inspires her. Heti writes in the prologue of the novel, “I’m sorry, but I’m really glad [Margaux’s] my best friend. If I had known, when I was a baby, that in America there was a baby who was throwing up her hands and saying, first words out of her mouth, Who cares? and that one day she’d be my best friend, I would have relaxed for the next twenty-three years, not a single care in the world.”
The relationship between Sheila and Margaux is not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Heti — who, it’s worth noting, is best friends with artist Margaux Williamson in real life — writes about the balance of best friendship. After all, friendships are unbalanced by nature, and the ability for that friendship to sustain itself has to do entirely with how that balance shifts and evolves.
3. Horatio and Hamlet in Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Good friends stay by you through good times, but best friends stay by you through bad times, and, you know, Hamlet was not really having an awesome time. So it’s a good thing Hamlet had Horatio. It’s Horatio who he trusts with the information that he’s going to pretend to be mad after seeing his father’s ghost. SPOILER ALERT (though, seriously, you should probably know the plot of Hamlet by now): Horatio is also the only one to survive the play, living to tell Hamlet’s story.
There’s a pretty good lesson about friendship here: Your friends are the ones who tell your stories and sing your praises when you’re not there. So, yeah, maybe your best friend did claim to see a ghost, or did try to kill his uncle, or did subtweet his ex at 3 in the morning, but, as the greatest friend on planet Earth, it’s your job to still love and support him.
4. Tom and Huckleberry Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Now, as Louis C. K. explains, Tom Sawyer is a “nice kid” and Huck Finn is “a dirty little homeless, little white-trash creep.” Still, those character differences don’t stop them from having a great friendship.
We’re first introduced to Huck in chapter six of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and learn right away that Huck is bad news bears. You know that kid from high school that you weren’t allowed to hang out with because his/her parents were always out of town and their house was just a mecca of weed and cheap booze? That’s Huck Finn. The mothers of the children in town do not let their kids play with him, because, yeah, he’s a dirty little homeless, little white-trash creep. Still, Tom associates with Huck despite all his shortcomings, and isn’t that what friendship is all about? Like, yeah, your friend is 27-years-old and has yet to get a real job, but you still love her.
5. Jules, Jonah, Ethan and Ash in The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Jules meets Jonah, Ethan and Ash at sleepaway camp during the summer of Nixon’s resignation and, though she doesn’t realize it at her young age, begins a lifelong bond with the three. The Interestings thus spans decades, beginning when the characters are hardly teenagers and going all the way through middle age.
Wolitzer writes a compelling story about what it means to be envious of your friends, even when you love them. Who among us is noble enough to not have been jealous of those we are closest to? It’s complicated, though: You’re covetous, but you can’t express your resentment, and you’re also genuinely happy for whatever it is that your friend has achieved. You don’t just feel envious; you feel meager. Wolizer’s novel manages to provide an accurate portrayal of these complex feelings that can be at the heart of very real friendships.
6. Henry, Richard, Charles and Camilla in The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Unlike the other books on this list, The Secret History does not provide a depiction of friendship as a loving affair. Rather, it shows the dark underbelly of close bonds, zeroing in on the boundarylessness and emotional brutality that can and often does exist in close friendships. Without giving anything away, The Secret History's Henry, Richard, Charles and Camilla do something absolutely terrible to another one of their friends. As the book unfolds, we learn how these four support and help one another, often in disturbing way.
7. Elizabeth Bennett and Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Everybody thinks that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have the most noteworthy relationship in Pride and Prejudice, but that’s only because everybody is stupid and wrong. Elizabeth and her best friend Charlotte share a stunning unconditional love. Despite a six-year age difference, differing views of love and a shared suitor, their bond remains tight. Now those are BFFs.
8. Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
People always think of Cathy and Heathcliff as just lovers, but as we learned above, people are stupid and wrong. The two were best friends from childhood, and it’s that friendship which allowed them to have such an intense romantic bond once they grew up. They know each other completely and are entirely comfortable around one another. Even as lovers, they are best friends.
9. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is literary proof that sometimes the best friends are the ones you’re born with. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy certainly have their struggles, most of which are related to Jo getting really upset that her sisters could ever think of getting married rather than spend their lives acting in the plays she wrote for them. Still, their bond is unbreakable, and they love and support each other unconditionally, as best friends should.
10. Sancho Panza and Don Quixote in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Before “bromance” was ever a word (or, rather, something vaguely resembling a word), there was Sancho Panza and Don Quixote. It’s a friendship that, over the years, has morphed into a familiar trope of hero and sidekick. The two male friends (sorry, but I refuse to ever use the word “bro”) go an epic journey together, which is basically a road trip. Their funny and simple friendship is a reminder and an ideal of how we should support our friends, both emotionally and physically.
So many of us think of romantic relationships as being more complex and interesting than friendships. Friendships, however, share so many of the traits that make romantic relationships noteworthy and provide for some of the most captivating narratives in literature. Each of the novels on this list points to a different facet of friendship and offers insight into what it means to be a good and loyal friend.
Which literary friendship — from this list or otherwise — have you found the most relatable? Let us know in the comments below.
Michelle King grew up in South Florida and now lives in Brooklyn. Her contributions have appeared on BULLETT, Refinery29, xoJane and The Huffington Post. Harriet M. Welsch is still her role model and probably always will be.
(Image credits, from top: from Hachette Australia, from NPR, from Wikipedia, from NPR, from Book Riot, from Photobucker user snugglyoranges, from flickriver, from A Year of Feminist Classics, from Liupis)
KEEP READING: More on Books