In my opinion, you can never have too many friends—real ones or from some amazing books to definitely add to your summer reading list.
Every once in a while as I’m reading a book, I wish it wasn’t fiction. It’s a feeling that passes over me when a particularly compelling character—someone I’d like to meet for happy hour, bring along on a road trip, or take with me to exercise class—becomes so charmingly vivid that I feel like I might be able to conjure them off the page. As I read, a deep connection forms: I laugh with them, cry with them, and learn from them.
Alas, I know I might not be able to be three-dimensional friends with these heroines, but they remain my 2-D friends long after I’ve closed the book and put it back on my shelf. And, just like all good friends, I love introducing them to new acquaintances. Today, I want to introduce them to you. And I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll want to be their friends, too.
Ella Minnow Pea
Ella is the main character in a book of the same name. She lives on a fictional island off the coast of South Carolina where the inventor of the pangram (a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet) “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” lived. One day, one of the letters falls off of the statue of the fabled former resident and the town decides that it means that they should no longer use that letter. Soon, another falls.
The entire novel consists of correspondence between Ella and others, and as letters fall from the statue, the spellings become more creative. Through her letters, we get to know a strong woman who thinks for herself, and questions the status quo. Although it was by necessity, she shows herself to be very nimble with language as well.
BFF qualities: Witty, passionate, and a great correspondent
Flavia is an eleven-year-old girl living in 1950s England in her first adventure, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Although hers is a rather sleepy area, she somehow seems to stumble across murders rather frequently. Smart as a whip, she usually works the case out in fairly short order, usually managing to teach me something I didn’t know about chemistry, poison, or other types of science, with obvious delight.
It amazes me that an adult male writer could so perfectly capture a precocious 11-year-old. She’s amazing and intrepid, but human, too. Frequently, she sees through to the hidden pain in those around her and while she occasionally fights the torments of her older sisters with similar fire, in the end, she’s fiercely loyal to her family and friends. I’d love to have her in my corner, murder or no murder.
BFF qualities: Clever, compassionate, and knowledgeable about poisons (hey, you never know when that will come in handy)
It’s likely that many of us grew up wanting to be friends with “Anne with an E,” especially after Megan Follows brought her to life in miniseries form. It’s hard not to love the melodramatic orphan who wins over a whole town, and goes on to become a poised and accomplished woman, ideals and dreams intact. Many times, I’ve described my search for real life friends in Anne terms: I too am looking for strong connections, for kindred spirits.
If you haven’t read the whole series, you’re in for a treat. L. M. Montgomery wrote eight novels telling Anne’s story (including two that feature her children front and center). Throughout the series, Anne makes friends in an easy, hopeful way, sometimes with the most unexpected people. She’s always inspired me in that way. I’d like to think that she’d recognize a kindred spirit in me right away.
BFF qualities: Spunky, creative, and looking for a kindred spirit
Harriet appears as a character midway through Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, set and written in the 1920s and 30s, but she’s hardly a sidekick. When we first meet her, she is accused of murdering her lover by poison (I can’t help thinking that she and Flavia would get along). She immediately caught Lord Peter’s attention, as well as mine.
By all accounts, her author put a lot of herself into the character. Sayers was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford, Harriet went to Oxford and wrote mystery novels for a living. Although Lord Peter is taken with her, she keeps right on living her life, and keeping up a steady stream of banter while doing it. Even though she’s unspeakably smart I’d love to have a cup of tea with her and see if I could keep up. Meet her in Strong Poison (and start from the beginning with Lord Peter in Whose Body?)
BFF qualities: Sophisticated, opinionated, and calm under pressure
I’m usually not attracted to faith-based fiction, but Mari drew me in right away. She works at a retirement home and dreams of a job at a local spa. Her interactions with the residents are priceless, and there is one woman, Tess, a dignified woman with a storied past, who is more of a mentor to her.
While Mari is great all by herself, she has some wonderful friends, as well. I’d love to join them for one of their breakfast outings, or tag along to one of the swanky fundraiser soirees Mari plans. While these are funny and light, they also got me thinking about vocation, and what is truly important in life. You can get to know Mari and her friends in Hip To Be Square and Altar Call.
BFF qualities: Resourceful, hopeful, and great at planning events
Dawn is the main character in Ten Girls to Watch, about a recent graduate living in New York City who gets a temporary job hunting down past winners of Charm magazine’s “Ten Girls To Watch” contest with the intention of highlighting some of their stories for an event celebrating the contest. Along the way, Dawn tries to make her own way in an unforgiving city, learn from those who came before, and recover when things don’t go exactly how she’d planned.
I’d love to be friends with Dawn, but as I was reading, I also wanted her job. She was having fascinating conversations with amazing women every day and figuring out how they got where they were in life. I’ll bet she would have been great at a cocktail party.
BFF qualities: Curious, resilient, and up for unconventional opportunities
To this day, one of my favorite books is The Westing Game. It’s a puzzle of the best kind, not too scary, but with lots of twists and turns. Even though I’ve read it many times, it’s never gotten old.
Turtle is a young girl in the book, a bit of a tomboy. She’s one of the first people to really wonder what’s going on in Sam Westing’s game, and the most perceptive player. She’s loyal and brave and relentlessly curious, and I could see her getting me into a whole lot of trouble (but I would enjoy every moment of it).
BFF qualities: Adventurous, caring, and not afraid of getting dirty.
I hope that this list has introduced you to some new friends, and perhaps reminded you of some old ones. In my opinion, either way, you can never have too many literary BFFs.
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