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Life Lessons On Friendship and 8 other brilliant books about female companionship

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Anna Brech
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Books about female friendship

To celebrate the release of Stylist’s new book, Life Lessons On Friendshipthis week, we round up the novels that capture the essence of female friends as we know and love them the best. 

Female friendship is something of a lifeblood for many Stylist readers. Our women pals are the people who drink with us, cry with us and cheer us on. They’re there at the bitter end of the night, picking us up and dusting us off when life seems all but impossible

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It’s hard to capture this superhero dynamic in the pages of a novel, but some authors do exactly that. 

With Stylist’s new book, Life Lessons On Friendship, which hit shelves today, we pick our favourite reads where female friends take centre stage in technicolour detail.

Nab the leading woman in your life and get set to toast the bond you share with these brilliant, hilarious and moving odes to friendship.  

  • Life Lessons On Friendship by Stylist

    Stylist’s latest book pulls together a series of frank and poignant essays on the most important relationships of our lives.

    Life Lessons On Friendship features contributions from the likes of former Woman’s Hour presenter Dame Jenni Murray, political activist Gina Martin (the woman who helped to make upskirting a crime) and comedian Shappi Khorsandi – all examining what friendship means to them personally.

    The collection of stories, out in February, confronts the pleasure and pain of modern friendships head-on, asking questions such as how many friends does a person actually need? Is online friendship the real deal? And what happens when you fall in love with your best friend?

    Don’t miss this compelling new read that delves right into the heart of the deep-rooted ties that bind us – along with the wider Stylist community – together. 

  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

    As she teeters on the edge of a messy breakup, Queenie’s life as a London journalist is spiralling out of control – especially when it comes to her disastrous taste in men. A self-destructive streak means she keeps on rebounding with all the worst guys, from cheats to liars and aggressive-sex types.

    But Queenie’s three closest female friends – Kyazike, Cassandra and Darcy – are her wing women: the ladies who have her corner and see her through; no matter what chaos erupts elsewhere.

    It’s this relatable friendship motif that really shines through in Candice Carty-Williams’ critically acclaimed novel, providing relief, hilarity and a ray of warm sunshine amid all the more heartbreaking elements. A beautifully-told story that will make you want to grab hold of all your closest friends and cherish them like the life rafts they are. 

  • Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

    Nick and her cousin Helena have always been close – but when Helena moves to LA with her new husband, all is not as it seems. The couple are riding the wave of 1960s Hollywood in a golden era of film; and yet Nick is disturbed by her phone calls with her one-time bubbly cousin, who seems increasingly remote.

    The one time Nick really gets to see Helena is when they reunite for summers in the atmospheric setting of their family home on Martha’s Vineyard. Amid the boat parties, the tennis matches and the twilight gin cocktails, dark secrets fester. But can Nick save her cousin before it’s too late?

    This evocative debut about the ebb and flow of the ties that bind us is written by Liza Klaussmann, who is a descendent of Herman Melville. Storytelling clearly runs in the blood – you’ll be hooked from the out. 

  • The Good Women Of China by Xinran

    For eight years, investigative journalist Xinran presented a radio show in China that invited women to call in about their deepest fears and secrets, in an unprecedented move for the state-controlled country.

    Somehow, Xinran navigated the minefield of restrictions placed on Chinese journalists to coax out the incredible and intimate stories that women shared on her programme – and this book is the result of her efforts.

    The narrative takes an unflinching look at hugely taboo issues in Chinese society such as rape, domestic violence and forbidden love – as seen through the eyes of those who have lived it all. Most of all, though, it is an eloquent tribute to the kind of solidarity that has helped generations of women face their demons together: often marking the first time they have talked about such matters through years of gender oppression and political turmoil. 

  • Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

    Female friendship in its finest form is captured by Rebecca Wells’ 1996 New York Times bestseller; a delight of a book that brings to life everything that is great about sisterhood. A group of fiercely loyal and eccentric women known as the Ya-Yas navigate the highs and lows of life in small-town Louisiana, from their childhood in the 1930s to many decades on.

    The Ya-Yas are no ordinary friendship group: they ride shotgun together, swig homemade cocktails and go skinny-dipping in the middle of the night. They take gleeful relish in breaking the rules and pushing back at what it means to be “a lady”. And they also guard each other’s secrets to the death, rescuing one another from abusive relationships and scarring psychiatric breakdowns.

    In fact, this lot are so close-knit, their husbands and lovers barely get a look-in: a refreshing change from all those stories where women vie over men. Dive right in for a feel-good tale of women’s love for one another, and how it helps heal a mother-daughter rift.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Mariam and Laila are two very different women living in Afghanistan. Mariam, an illegitimate child from a poverty-stricken background, is forced into a life of servitude with her husband Rasheed, who is 30 years her senior. When war breaks out, Laila – a privileged and impulsive woman who is deep in the throes of young love – also finds herself at the mercy of Rasheed.

    Caught in a desperate situation, Laila chooses to marry Rasheed as well, making Mariam furious with resentment. But as Rasheed’s behaviour becomes evermore violent and erratic, the two women become conspirators – and eventually, the closest allies that friends can be.

    We challenge you not to weep tears of rage and hope with Khaled Hosseini’s remarkable take on friendship, as played out in the face of one of the most repressive regimes on earth. 

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    It’s Mississippi, 1962, and Skeeter – a white woman living in a starkly segregated community – is only just waking up to the reality that surrounds her. As an aspiring journalist, she embarks on a mission to uncover what life is really like for “the help”; the Black women who tend to her and her friends; who wash their clothes, bring up their children and witness all their messy secrets.

    The quest sees Skeeter strike up an unlikely friendship with Aibileen, a grief-stricken maid who is reeling from the death of her son, and Minnie, who is covering up a “terrible, awful thing” she did against her former boss (a woman who also happens to be Skeeter’s childhood friend). At the same time, Minnie is reluctantly becoming closer to Celia, the glamorous and lonely woman she cleans and cooks for.

    As all four women are pitched together in an increasingly tense and dangerous situation, the fault lines of their racist society are cast open – demanding more courage than they ever believed possible. A riveting page-turner that shows how friendship really can move mountains.

  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

    Childhood friends Elena and Lila are bonded together in a bid to survive the poverty and violence of their upbringing in mid-20th century Naples. 

    Lila, who is tougher, brutalised but so brave, often leads the way fighting for them both. Elena is quiet and geeky but more aware of the consequences of her actions. 

    As they grow up, the two girls work as a team to transcend their painful past and have a voice in a society that renders them both invisible. Their paths weave in and out of each other’s lives amid passionate eruptions of love, jealousies and betrayals – and yet, somehow, they stay connected through it all. 

    This extraordinary book depicts friendship as we rarely voice it: as a confusing, challenging and beautiful thing that is far more complex than most of us would care to admit. 

  • Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg

    This gem of a novel by Fannie Flagg plays out against two parallel timelines, with the themes of friendship and love running deep within both. When Evelyn, a depressed Alabama housewife, goes visiting a local nursing home, she meets resident Ninny, an irrepressible old lady who spots right away that Evelyn is not quite herself. To cheer Evelyn up, Ninny reaches into her past to tell the story of Idgie, the resident bee charmer whom she grew up with in 1920s Alabama.

    Flashback to then, and Idgie is a born hellraiser: a card-playing, whiskey-drinking rebel who refuses to conform to type. However, she can’t help but be drawn to newcomer Ruth, who is wholesome and sweet: everything Idgie is not. When Ruth’s abusive husband goes missing in suspicious circumstances, Idgie is a prime suspect – but what really happened that fateful night of the barbeque at the Whistle Stop Café?

    Idgie and Ruth are in fact lovers in this book, but the bond they have mirrors the platonic one shared between Evelyn and Ninny many decades later. Above all, this tragic and uplifting story is all about what happens when women have each other’s backs. 

Stylist's new book is an ode to our closest relationships in life

Life Lessons On Friendship: 13 Honest Tales Of The Most Important Relationships Of Our Lives from Stylist magazine is published by Penguin Random House, and comes out on this week – 4 February 2021. Find out more and pre-order your copy here.

Images: Getty, Instagram, Penguin Random House

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.