Healthy and complicated friendships in YA fiction

Friends are everything when you’re a teen. Finding and maintaining loyal and supportive friendships can be a lifesaver, and dealing with untrustworthy or manipulative friends can cause heartbreak.

Here are some recommended YA books that take a look at the complicated world of teenage friendships.



Love Lie Repeat by Catherine Greer

Annie, Ash and Ruby are a trio of best friends – beautiful, popular and talented girls who live on Sydney’s privileged north shore. The three girls pride themselves on their unbreakable bond, but when Ash’s step brother Trip returns from overseas and Annie pursues him, cracks in their friendship (and their perfect individual exteriors) start to show. Jealousy, grief, vengeance, competition and desire emerge, and it becomes difficult to know who to trust.

With the page-turning power of a psychological thriller, Love Lie Repeat shows teens behaving badly and hurting those they love, but it also explores the pressures, losses and fears that drive them there.


Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

When her best friend Daisy wants to solve the mystery of missing billionaire fugitive Russell Pickett (and reap a $100,000 reward), Aza and Daisy embark on a mission to make contact with Davis, the missing mogul’s son and childhood friend of Aza. Aza and Davis form a tentative new connection, but Aza fears that her OCD, anxiety and germphobia won’t allow her to have a “normal” relationship.

When Aza discovers that Daisy’s Star Wars fan fiction contains a character that is effectively a repository for all of Daisy’s frustrations with Aza, the two friends have a sickening and out-of-control confrontation that has dire consequences. Turtles All The Way Down depicts the difficulties and tensions of true intimacy, and offers a sensitive take on how mental health and economic differences can provide grit in human interactions.


Wildlife by Fiona Wood

When Sibylla and Lou become cabin mates during their school’s wilderness education term, they’re drawn into each other’s worlds. Sibylla is pedalling hard to keep up with the elevation in her social status due to her first professional modelling job, and the interest shown in her by popular athlete Ben. Introverted new student Lou is still reeling from the death of her boyfriend.

While first romance and first sexual experiences are explored delicately in Wildlife, it’s also the depiction of different sorts of friendship that lingers. Sibylla’s steadfast friend Michael, a gorgeous and unique boy, shows the very best in loyalty and understanding, while Sibylla’s “best” friend Holly, proves herself to be disappointingly unworthy of Sibylla’s trust.


All of This is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor

Miri, Soleil, Penny and Jonah are utterly obsessed with the novel Undertow, and can’t believe it when they’re befriended by its charismatic author, Fatima Ro, at a book signing. Ro encourages the four teens to reveal “precious truths” as a way of forging deep human connections, but when Ro’s new book comes out it becomes obvious that the author has blatantly mined their secrets for her own ends.

Ro’s callous adult manipulations are easy to deplore, but this group of privileged teens – each caught up in their own fears and desires – also have a thing or two to learn about being a good friend. Presented as a series of interview transcripts, emails, articles, journal entries and book excerpts, All of This is True is a twisty thriller that delves into celebrity culture, fandom, obsession, forgiveness and herd mentality.



I Am Out With Lanterns by Emily Gale

Weaving together the multiple perspectives of Wren, Adie, Milo, Ben, Juliet and Hari, I Am Out With Lanterns is a deep and empathetic dive into family tensions and rifts, school politics, bullying, difference, equality, toxic masculinity, art and a hint of magic.

Each of the six young characters are sensitively portrayed in their entwined quests for connection and belonging, but it is the exemplary friendship between neighbours Milo and Wren that shines. Milo is being bullied by Ben and wrestling with his crush on Wren; Wren is still grieving the death of her brother and experiencing a surprising new attraction. Milo and Wren are very different from each other (Milo is autistic, Wren is neurotypical) but they both make genuine efforts to understand and support each other.


Changing Gear by Scot Gardner

When Merrick’s beloved grandad passes away, he struggles to find a way to cope with the loss. Two weeks before his Year Twelve exams, Merrick decides he needs to hit the road on his old postman’s motorbike, lying to each of his divorced parents about his whereabouts. After his bike is damaged, Merrick joins up with a hiking traveller called Victor and his dog, and the teenage boy and older man strike up a firm friendship.

Victor is a philosopher of the road, and his life experiences have given him wisdom that he passes on gently to Merrick, while the two enjoy the meandering simplicity of travelling and camping. It’s not often you see close inter-generational friendships in YA stories, let alone the kind of frank and necessary discussion that occurs when Victor lets Merrick know his views on sex and porn.


Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising is a joyous celebration of the power of a friendship squad, wrapped up in the high-stakes action of a thrilling sci-fi adventure. Squad 312 of the peacekeeping Aurora Legion doesn’t have a promising beginning – it consists of the last Aurora Academy graduates left unpicked at the end of the annual draft. Led by high-achieving golden boy, Tyler, the squad contains Tyler’s charming twin sister Scarlett, feisty pilot Cat, blunt genius Zila, wisecracking Betraskan Fin, pressure-cooker warrior Kal, and stowaway Aurora, who has just woken from a very confusing two-century cryogenic sleep.

Still, the members of Squad 312 manage to form separate friendships, build trust, demonstrate loyalty, support each other in situations of extreme stress, and forge teamwork across species and personality types. You wouldn’t want to go to space with any other team of witty, skilled, tenacious and adorable weirdos.


Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Best friends Jasmine and Chelsea attend a progressive high school that prides itself on a curriculum that emphasises social justice. But when keen actress Jasmine and poet Chelsea start up a women’s rights club with a blog that quickly goes viral, they get clear messages from the school administration that their voices aren’t welcome. Chelsea and Jasmine don’t always understand each other perfectly – Chelsea is initially oblivious to some of the challenges Jasmine faces as a curvy black girl – but they stay the course and have the difficult conversations they need to have, with themselves, their families and the wider community.

It’s a real pleasure to read about teenage friends who have a shared interest in creativity and equality, and are passionate about making the world a better place. When Jasmine’s father’s terminal cancer escalates, it is Chelsea and their wider friendship group of Nadine and Isaac who are there for Jasmine in every possible way.

Leanne Hall is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids. She also writes books for children and young adults.

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Changing Gear

Changing Gear

Scot Gardner

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