When Friends Become Family

As we draw close to Thanskgiving, we often turn our thoughts and plans to family. While there are YA characters who have strong families, astomorrow Jessica’s 2012 post  and Kelly’s post from last week shows, there are also lots of YA books where the protagonists have either lost family members, been separated from them, or never had a proper family to begin with. This doesn’t mean these characters have no family relationships, though. Lots of YA characters, when faced with a lack of a regular family, create their own. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ellie and her friends in the Tomorrow series by John Marsden (the movie version was chosen as a Fabulous Film for Young Adults 2013). This action packed series, which starts with Tomorrow, When the War Began follows a group of Australian teenagers who go away for a camping trip and come back to find their country has been invaded. As the plot unfolds, the friends rely on each other more and more to be both fellow soldiers determined to take back their homes and a family that both provides emotional support and takes on the everyday tasks of making a place to live. I especially like that the last book in the series, The Other Side of Dawn, deals with the difficulty of reintegrating with their parents after the enforced separation and self-sufficiency, and the companion series, The Ellie Chronicles, continues to explore the toll that war takes on families, both given and self-made. Although I haven’t yet read them, I think Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14 series (2014 Teens’ Top Ten) covers some of the same ground in terms of a family forged out of necessity. 
  • Similarly, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch form a family over the course of the Hunger Games trilogy (2009 Best Books for Young Adults and Ultimate YA Bookshelf). While Katniss still has her birth family, the experiences of the arena form a connection between her and her fellow champions that is different, and in some ways, deeper, than with her own family. Particularly in Catching Fire, Peeta’s galvanization of the other two to prepare adequately for the Quarter Quell games serves to draw the three together tightly.
  • In less dire circumstances, Alice McKinley and her friends Elizabeth, Pamela, and Gwen from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series form the kind of Now_I'll_Tell_You_Everythingfamily ties that many teens share with their friends. Alice is lucky to have a supportive family backing her up, but even they can’t always provide everything she needs, and she turns to her friends. Pamela in particular faces lots of challenges from her own family, so her friends support her when family falls short.
  • And finally, it may be cliche, but I can’t help but mention Harry Potter. While the most obvious instance of family this series is the tight-knit Weasley family, and the fact that they essentially adopt Harry as one of them makes a huge difference in Harry’s life. But beyond joining the Weasleys, Harry also builds up his own wider family: first, with his tight friendship with Ron and Hermione, and support from those adults like Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore who are looking out for him. Later, his ability to draw a wider circle of friends through “Dumbledore’s Army” proves important in Harry’s quest to finish Voldemort.

So, what are you favorite YA characters whose friendships forge them into a family? Which YA characters would you like to adopt into your family?

-Libby Gorman, currently rereading the Harry Potter series and reading The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen