The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 1: 1931–1934
1969, Mariner Books
I was 15 years old, roaming around a bookstore in Berkeley, California, when I came across The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 1. I had been desperately and unsuccessfully searching for a strong female mentor IRL, and I found what I was looking for in this book. For the remainder of that summer, I ignored all obligations and became engulfed in its pages upon pages of genius. The diary is full of Nin’s intimate recollections of transitory phases of her life, sexuality, and most importantly, FRIENDSHIPS—the kinds of friendships that you lose yourself in and, as a result, never forget. Nin’s relationship with her friend June bordered on obsession, and developed into one of the most touching bonds I have ever read about. “Does she know that I feel lost in her, that I no longer understand what she is saying, feeling only the warmth of her words, their vividness?,” she asks herself. My copy is littered with frazzled scribblings, stars, and underscores. —Mads
Anne of Green Gables
L. M. Montgomery
1908, L.C. Page & Co.
My grandmotherly neighbor introduced me to Anne of Green Gables when I was in fourth grade, and—I kid you not—I used to go over to her house every weekend to sit on her yellow carpet and listen to her read it out loud from her rocking chair. Even though it was published in the early 1900s, I identified with it deeply, because like Anne with an E, I had a big mouth, a big imagination, and used big words I didn’t understand. I felt that Anne was my literary alter ego. She is in love with ideas, and obsessed with romance. There are paragraphs dedicated to describing her new friend Diana and how beautiful she is, how black her hair is, and how she has such deep and desirable dimples (all of which has since inspired a lot of speculation that Anne and Diana were more than friends). Anne soon realizes that not only is Diana beautiful, but she also is a “kindred spirit” (meaning they perfectly understand each other). The girls make an oath to be “bosom friends” forever, but Diana’s mother viciously forbids them from seeing each other after Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk. Anne is completely heartbroken and begs Diana for a lock of her hair in an incredibly emotional and dramatic scene that brought me to tears. When my best friend switched schools in fifth grade, I had her cut a lock of her hair for me that I tucked into my shirt pocket. It got lost in the washing machine, but still (in Anne’s words) it was “EVER so romantic!” —Tova
How I Live Now
This novel, narrated by a problem child named Daisy, seriously blew my mind the first time I read it. Daisy’s parents send her away to the English countryside to live with a bunch of cousins she’s never met, and Daisy ends up falling in love with one named Edmond. Although obviously problematic, their relationship is treated with such tenderness and delicacy by Rosoff that you can’t help but be enchanted by the bizarre, hazy world they exist in together for a hot minute—until a nameless enemy army invades England, World War III breaks out, and everything turns to poop. I know I’m making their story sound pretty melodramatic, but it’s mostly about survival and self-preservation and the realization that you can care even more about the people you love than you care about yourself. The book is very sad, quite strange, a bit scary, and was written by Rosoff in such a perfectly casual but measured and poetic tone that it made me think, Damn, I wish I’d written that. —Esme
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian teenagers Ifemelu and Obinze have a sweet, passionate romance that takes them through university. But as they grow up, their lives lead them to different parts of the world. Obinze has always harbored dreams of moving to America, but problems with immigration cause him to end up in London. Ifemelu finishes her education in the U.S., and is quickly thrown into culture shock as she is forced to confront both race and nationality in ways she never had to back in Nigeria. This is a sprawling book that spans decades and continents. A lot of thematic territory is covered—particularly when the characters try to make sense of cultural identity when there is no single place to consider home. But the heart of the story lies in Ifemelu and Obinze’s relationship. It’s a meditation on how another person can truly center you, regardless of where you are. —Anna F.
The Good Times Are Killing Me
1988, Real Comet Press
Barry’s semi-autobiographical novel is about an adolescent’s complicated and gut-wrenchingly vivid understanding of the messed-up world she lives in. Edna is white and her best friend Bonna is black, and the people in their changing neighborhood don’t think their friendship should exist. Barry is unparalleled in reconstructing childhood banter—I’m positive that she had a tape recorder hidden somewhere deep inside her brain as a kid and transcribed what she documented for this book. Who remembers things this well? Luckily, Lynda Barry does. Not only does she tell a story that will break your heart, but she illustrates it with drawings that will do the same thing, too. —Emma S.
Nobody But Us
18-year-old Will has been bounced from foster home to foster home after being abandoned by his mom. 15-year-old Zoe takes care of her abusive, alcoholic dad. Life as they’ve both known it is about loneliness, avoiding violence, and struggling to make ends meet. Desperate to change all that, they escape their homes in North Dakota in Will’s old car to build something new and more loving together in Las Vegas. Their leftover habits and fears sadly haunt them, and so does the law—especially after underage Zoe crosses state lines. This story, told in both Will’s and Zoe’s voices, is an intense page-turner, a heartbreaker, and an incredible conversation-starter about the worlds we come from, and how they influence the worlds we try to make for ourselves. —Stephanie
1962, Dial Press
There are days when it seems like the only way I can find relief from society’s matrix of bummers is by total submersion in a relationship with another person. But escaping to a universe of two provides only fleeting comfort, which is what the characters in this excellent book come to learn. At the heart of the novel is Rufus Scott, a magnetic and troubled black drummer on the jazz scene in 1950s New York. Throughout the story, supporting characters explore their powerful attractions to him, but none of their bonds with Rufus are strong enough to save him from ultimate destruction. Baldwin’s queer black voice—and ability to write convincing characters across the gender, race, and sexuality spectrums—made this book a quantum leap when it was published in the ’60s. The way it explores uncomfortable truths about personal relationships in an unequal world continues to push boundaries. Another Country is a reminder that you can build walls around yourself and the one/s you love, but you usually can’t stop outside forces from breaking in. —Caitlin D.
Sula is important to me because it explores friendship between black women, which is something I feel is lacking in literature. But it’s not just about race—it also questions the connections between friends. The main characters, Sula and Nel, are brought together by a neighborhood called the Bottom. As children, they form a strong camaraderie, but a tragic event rattles them. When they get older, their relationship wanes and becomes like a fraying string. Their story shows how a once-sweet friendship can sometimes destroy two people instead of bringing them closer together. —Chanel
The Fortress of Solitude
Why is it so often true that a writer’s best work is the one that hits closest to his or her home? Case in point: Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, a sprawling, semi-autobiographical bildungsroman about growing up in a house full of art and sadness in a pre-gentrified Brooklyn. It’s a gorgeous book, and captures what (I imagine) it feels like to be a boy coming of age. I’ve read and loved so many books about girls in that life-stage, but this was the first time one really helped me understand what it might be like on the other side. Throw in New York in the ’70s, racial tensions, and the longing felt between best friends, and you’ve got a truly, truly amazing novel. —Emma S.
All Our Pretty Songs
2013, St. Martin’s Griffin
This gorgeous, lush story can feel like a modernized retelling of Orpheus’s journey to the underworld—but instead of being about the distances a person will go for a lover, it’s about the depths of true friendship between teenage girls. An unnamed narrator is best friends with a girl named Aurora, and they grow up like sisters in Seattle, Washington. Once upon a time, their mothers were best friends, too (a story that McCarry tells in her new book, Dirty Wings). Their mothers’ friendship fell apart shortly after Aurora’s rock-star dad died, and now Aurora’s mom spends her days strung out on drugs, while the narrator’s mom scrapes together a living as a fortune-teller. The narrator and Aurora are left to basically raise and care for each other. If you love Francesca Lia Block, Neil Gaiman, or mythology—or if you know what it’s like to have best friend who is your soulmate—you will devour this book. (It also has a diverse cast of characters, which is something that you sadly don’t see enough of in young-adult fiction.) —Stephanie ♦