Best Friends Forever….Whatever
Jeannie Campbell, LMFT
There seems to be a growing trend in YA novels to feature a heroine with low self-esteem who has to endure the malevolent ministrations of her so-called best friend.
The heroine is usually too timid to speak up for herself at the beginning of the book. Her “best friend” gives her backhanded compliments and teases her in the one area that emotionally cripples the heroine.
One book with the scenario above is Jennifer Echol’s The One That I Want. Gemma’s frenemy, Addison, wants the guy Gemma does. She makes things intolerable for Gemma with cutting remarks about Gemma’s weight or fashion sense.
Claire LaZebnik’s Epic Fail features an uprooted young heroine, planted in a hip Los Angeles prep school. She gets in with the “in” crowd, who only turn on her with cruelty to ruin her life.
I began to reflect whether this accurately reflects the pulse of young adult female friendships and did a little research.
Apparently, it does.
In 2010, Dr. Michelle Anthony and Dr. Reyna Lindert wrote Little Girls Can Be Mean, a book that addresses this very issue. They focused on elementary-aged girls (K-6) and the friend-slash-bully their own daughters had faced.
It seems that boys don’t typically have this type of covert bullying. They are much more physical in how they intimidate and manipulate each other. Girls, on the other hand, rarely do overt bullying, and tend to favor the old saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Bullying best friends only gets worse as time passes. The stakes are higher, as are the social consequences. Many of these girls have been mistreated for so long that by high school, they succumb to the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and never imagine they could change their social situation.
As a mental health professional, I am concerned about the lack of a role model these heroines would be for my own daughter, were she old enough to read these stories. And while I’m secretly glad that the evil best friend gets her comeuppance by the end of the book, she does so only after the heroine either humiliates her publically or tells her off privately.
I’m not a fan of these inappropriate portrayals of how to solve interpersonal conflicts. Teens should be able to communicate in an assertive manner what their needs are, whether those needs are emotional, social, or physical. If a friend stands you up in favor of hanging out with someone else, no girl should just “let this slide,” or make up excuses for the friend’s behavior.
I realize that fictional books have to take the heroine through a journey. The internal character arc of being fearful at first and then growing courageous enough to speak up for yourself is attractive to many authors. It’s an easy sell, but there can be so much more to fiction!
I’m appreciative of the YA books bringing this issue to light, but we have to be careful about what message we are sending out to teens. We want to reach them where they are at, and many a teen girl will relate to being bullied by her best friend.
Great, that means she’ll pick up the book off the shelf.
So let’s make sure that when she does so, what she reads is like a road map to show her how she can better her social life through assertive communication, not aggression, revenge, or passive-aggressiveness.
Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit, but has worked in a variety of venues, from a psychiatric hospital to private practice. She is the owner and operator of The Character Therapist, an online therapy service for fictional characters where writers can receive her professional insight to improve characterization with psychology.
Readers, what books have you read that portray these types of relationships? Have you ever had a "best friend" of this variety?