Welcome back to another exploration of common themes found in young adult literature. We have already discussed some fun literary tropes including The Old Clunker I Drive, The I Already Know You Introduction, The I Have to Take Care of my Parents, and The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and Boy.) Today we will examine a not-so-nice trope: the A-hole friend(s). Let’s talk about those jerks who steer our protagonists astray. Those bullies who taunt, tease, and torture others. This trope can be hard to read– a good writer (such as those I mention below) make these a-holes so true to life we palpably hate them.
- Before I Fall (2011 Best Fiction For Young Adults, 2011 Teens Top Ten) by Lauren Oliver: Elody, Ally, and (most of all) Lindsay. Actually Sam, the narrator of this extraordinary book, is also kind of an a-hole. The foursome are your typical High School popular mean girls. They are beautiful. They laugh loudly. They target an innocent girl and bully her for years. They drink and drive fast (and pay for it.) Sam seems to consider herself a bystander in a lot of this a-hole behavior, but as the book goes on she learns more and more how her behavior affects others.
- 13 Reasons Why (2008 Best Books for Young Adults, 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, by Jay Asher: Most of Hannah’s friends. When Hannah ended her life, the entire student body was in shock. They all wondered “why”. But Clay never really thought he would get an answer to that question until the box of cassettes arrived at his door. Hannah named thirteen reasons why she killed herself and thirteen people that were in part responsible. A-hole friends who used Hannah, pretended to be nice then stabbed her in the back, started rumors about her, invaded her privacy, or ignored her when she needed help.
- The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: Violet. What do you do when your best friend is so loyal she takes the fall for you when you make the biggest mistake of your life? Do you let her go to jail? If you are Violet, and your beautiful friend Ori takes the fall for you: you do. Violet is the penultimate a-hole friend to Ori. As time progresses this act of betrayal eats away at both Violet (perpetrator) and Ori (victim.)
- Girl, Stolen (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers) by April Henry: Griffin and his father’s “co-workers.” Griffin kidnaps Cheyenne– by accident. He just meant to carjack the Cadillac Escalade the girl was sleeping in. But when Griffin bring his captive back to the remote farm home, the two ne’er do wells that work for Griffin’s father get involved in her ransom negotiation. A terrifying scene unfolds when Cheyenne, blinded when she was thirteen years old, is awakened to feel one of these jerks touching her.
- Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson: most of Bird’s friends. At the start of Johnson’s near-future sci-fi suspenseful thriller, Emily Bird (aka “Bird”) is drugged by an authority figure she trusts. Bird’s memory is altered and she does not know who to turn to. Bird’s old friends prove themselves to be a-holes by not sticking by her in tough times. Always the good girl, Bird is surprised to find loyalty and help in some marginalized students at her school. The notion of “good” people who treat Bird badly versus “bad” people who help the girl during her darkest times is eye-opening.
- I’ll Give you the Sun (2015 Printz Award Winner) by Jandy Nelson: Jude’s beach bum pals. Nelson’s narrative jumps between perspectives (twins Noah and Jude each have a voice) and time. During ages which jump back and forth, each twin becomes isolated and at others, are surrounded by insincere friends. The most blatant being Jude’s surfer low-life friends. When the girl was just fifteen, she befriended these losers who took advantage of her young age and naivete. Others stood by and let it happen; and that, an a-hole friend makes.
Though we are all flawed, these particular a-holes really stand out as a particular brand of cruel. Anyone else know some jerks in literature? Please join us next week as we delve into yet another fun literary trope: the Awesome Outfit!
—Tara Kehoe, currently reading: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell