Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

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Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Life is a series of connections; and these books, with their depictions of how we either miss the mark or somehow manage to land on the same page demonstrate (among other things) the ways in which our relationships dictate our paths. Some of them find a person slipping away from themselves while some demonstrate connections that give us clarity as we see ourselves mirror-reflected back. Some of the books also demonstrate relationships that are a part of our lives in order to provide a touchstone that lines the direction we ought to be walking, acting as sources of strength. These books all demonstrate the necessity of our relationships to our forward movement through life and present healthy as well as unproductive ways of coming together or apart. Use them to understand your own relationships, or just to be entertained for a few hours.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

(Trigger Warning for Scenes of Sexual Violence.)

Not all friendship comes easily, as this story about two newly-graduated high-school students, Quincy and Biddy, allows readers to discover. As part of both their community's and school's policies, the two are set up by their Special Education counselor in jobs that suit their abilities and personalities. Biddy and Quincy will share an apartment - Biddy assisting an elderly woman with everyday tasks she is no longer able to take care of and Quincy doing prep work at a local bakery. Quincy especially is defensive at the beginning of the book, but gradually warms up to the people in her life. In general, this is a story about belonging on your own terms and finding family and love that is encouraging and supportive of who you are. The essence of this friendship is based on commonalities and drives home the sense of maturation both undergo. Their relationship allows both to feel a sense of belonging and offers strength that can allow them to grow. Unfortunately, the experiences they have in common are not all pleasant ones, and the book is at times difficult to read. Though the vernacular is a little difficult to get into and is (in my opinion - occasionally questionable) the book is still a worthwhile read.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Fans of the Impossible Life is a muddle of personal trials and all the feelings that go along with them. The book opens with Jeremy, a shy high-school student, about to start an art club that will bring two new friends, Mira and Sebby, into his life (his first real friends.) Filled with fleshed out and fully realized characters, this book is an invitation to love and identify with their hopes and efforts and failings. Written from the perspective of the three teenage leads (and correspondingly, in first, second, and third person) the reader is able to recognize the inner workings of those depicted while fading down the static between their differences. This shared perspective also highlights the ways in which they each give their heart to one another, blurring the lines between individual and collective identity through both friendship and love. As they come to rely on one another, the book's plot proves how thin the separation is between friendship and romantic love.  Specifically highlighted is the way we style our relationships according to societal expectations - a phenomenon the author uses to contemplate gender expression as well. Fast paced and heartwarming, this is a great young adult novel that respects its characters, its audience, and the value of art.

The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

We can't save anyone but ourselves. We can try, but ultimately a person's fate, and the reality of their perceptions depends on what they create and allow themselves to see. So goes the message of The Museum of Intangible Things. Like many good realistic young adult novels, there are parents who don't understand, first loves, questions about the future as well as identity, and friendships. The friendship in this book between Hannah and Zoe is really about how powerful a non-romantic love can be and how much it can tie two people together. There are more invisible forces at play in this book than in most others and that it is called The Museum of Intangible Things is not irrelevant. The author, Wendy Wunder, has named each chapter after an intangible thing, and as we encounter them as readers, Hannah encounters them as a protagonist. Hannah and Zoe are warriors and see the cracks in their universe (cracks both personal and systemic - global warming is a recurrent theme.) To repair those, they cling to one another but, as Zoe begins to fall prey to hallucinations that accompany her bipolar disorder, the two leave town and search for the things they need to set them on their paths. This is definitely a book intended for a young adult audience and serves as a reminder of both the necessity and the limits of friendship. 

Paulina and Fran by Rachel Glaser

Focused on two young women and their art-school experiences, as well as what happens to them as post-graduates, Paulina and Fran tightly weaves its narrative with the threads of two lives that come together and subsequently fall apart. Paulina and Fran become entangled while on a study abroad trip and each finds the other fascinating. They build stories and demonstrate themselves to each other - sharing emotional fidelity if not emotional truth (neither ever finds anyone else who is as inherently resonant.) Both characters are presented as realistically flawed, and there's a sense of detached violence within the very pretty (often funny) prose. If you are wondering how friends can also be shadows of our worst selves, this is the friendship-themed book for you.

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley

Fighting through plotlines that sometimes seem a little disjointed, the wit that carries this book feeds off of the sweetness that exists between the main characters. Thematically, this book poses questions that people struggle with so realistically that it makes a tangled chain of the links between reality and fiction. Melancholy Victor, practical Kezia, and ambitious Nathaniel have been friends sharing complex connections and entanglements for years. Reuniting for the wedding of an acquaintance, they feel themselves slipping out of old patterns and into new ones; the opportunity to break free spurring questions that relate to everyone pursuing the path of delayed adulthood: what do I really want? how long can we remain the same person? do we age out of our friendships? With sweetness, there is also a bitter taste and an acknowledgment that inner growth (as well as forward movement) hurts. The characters deal with this and move over new terrain, breaking old habits but retaining old bonds, building themselves into the people they want to be – with an acknowledgment of the fallibility of blind belief. A novel about new beginnings that sparkles with the author’s droll intellect and which uses a story within a story to demonstrate how integral storytelling is to humanity’s ability to function, the book reminds you that life depends on our relationships in order to make it, “sad…but…not unbearably sad.”