C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art … It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Life without a friend would indeed be life but such a sad one that it would barely count as life at all. Of course, some friendships are fairly mundane, comprising of a simple birthday text or a sporadic coffee date. Others, however, change lives.
Books are full of characters who have important relationships that impact their narratives, from a spouse to a sister to an evil stepmother, but some of the most memorable and moving are the relationships with a chosen friend who is an irreplaceable part of their very personhood. A bond like this, something intangible but immensely powerful, often steals the literary show and remains on the reader’s mind long after they’ve forgotten the intricacies of plot details.
Female-driven novels are becoming increasingly common, thankfully, and not just because they involve a love story with a handsome Prince Charming. The following all feature women whose lives are forever altered due to compelling and vivid friendships, the heart and soul of their lives — and these pages.
“The Flight Girls,” by Noelle Salazar
Audrey Coltrane is a natural-born flyer. Pursuing her dreams leads her to an incredible opportunity and a station on Oahu, Hawaii, in the fateful year of 1941. The hints of war become terrifyingly immediate when the bombing of Pearl Harbor begins, and Audrey is thrust into the middle of the conflict. She remains strong and sure of herself, proving her courage by joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, and there she meets the women who will stay dear to her heart forever. The unbreakable bond they share is a stunningly poignant reminder that no amount of horror can defeat love.
“Betsy and Catherine: An Uncommon Friendship,” by Helen Gailey
A moving tale of two extremely different women in 18th century England, “Betsy and Catherine” investigates the discrepancies between what others tell us should be considered important and what truly is of real value. In this case, the world they live in dictates that Catherine, a noble lady, and Betsy, her maid, are not to associate with each other, but these women defy convention. When injustice and misunderstanding prevail and the pair find themselves on an arduous and terrifying journey, their bond is the guiding light that sustains them through it all.
“Little Tea,” by Claire Fullerton
The sleepy south serves as the graceful backdrop for this powerful female-driven novel. Three old friends, Celia, Renny and Ava, now nearing middle-age, arrange to meet up at a lake house for a respite from their respective realities. Each has their private lives but share a special history, which unfolds as Celia recalls the events that brought them to the present. The reader sees two narratives develop, each rife with meaning and cultural import, discussing the difficult topics of latent racism and deep-seated prejudices. The most important character is a fourth friend, however, and this friendship leaves its mark on both Celia and anyone who experiences this book.
“Saving Ruby King,” by Catherine Adel West
Extremely timely and extremely important, the themes of Black empowerment and freedom from racial prejudice are weighty and stunningly depicted in this novel. Adding an additional element of depth, meanwhile, is the theme of friendship. Ruby shares an extraordinary bond with her close friend Layla, and it is through her relationship with Layla that Ruby begins to better understand her relationship with herself, her community, her church, her culture and her past.
“The Giver of Stars,” by Jojo Moyes
This novel features a group of strong-willed and curious women who long for knowledge and intellectual growth during the wearying years of the Great Depression. They aim to fill this void in their Kentucky town with an intrepid and intriguing plan: They’ll deliver books to the members of their struggling community on horseback. As they do so, they impact those around them astronomically, bringing hope and heart but also run into complications that challenge what they believe so strongly in. Meanwhile, they bolster each other with faith in their shared mission and the profound friendships that fuel it.
“Home Front Girls,” by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
Two American women, Glory Whitehall and Rita Vincenzo, make an unlikely duo on the World War II home front. Rita is almost 20 years Glory’s senior. They live far away from each other and bond through the lost art of letter-writing. Of course, it wasn’t a lost art during the war. It was a lifeline for many desperate for news or a sense of companionship while those they loved were fighting overseas. Glory, well-off but overwhelmed and handling everything without her husband to help, reaches into a hat and draws Rita’s name at a 4-H meeting in an activity designed to comfort another lonely lady “in the same situation.” Rita’s an empty-nester and is grateful for the opportunity for friendship. Their poignant exchanges reveal just how much of a gift an unexpectedly wonderful friend can be.