Frenemies in YA

So I’m really delving into the schoolyears stories lately, but I think that as a YA writer it’s important to remember your own experiences as a teen so you can write authentic teen relationships and friendships. 

Something I’d like to work into my WIP is the idea of frenemies – or maybe not even frenemies, more toxic friendships. Throughout most of school I had a best friend who, now I look back on it, was actually more damaging for me than I knew at the time.

I was pretty shy and met her as a consequence of recently losing (read: outgrowing) most of my old friendship group and was just starting to meet people that I actually had stuff in common with. Same music, extra curriculars, films, style etc.

We clicked for all of those reasons but also because we were opposites; she was loud and not afraid to put herself out there and I was kinda placid enough to just go along with it and be the funny, sarcastic, quiet friend. I was a pretty ugly duckling and all the guys fancied her, and in that way she was a huge part of bringing me out of my shell. The disclaimer I’m trying to make is that It was by NO means all bad. We had plenty of good times.

BUT

She was always ready to drop me at a second’s notice if someone she thought was “cooler” came along. Which was fine, we had a big group of friends, but the point at which that became a problem was when we started dating people. Nothing quite tests a friendship like boys in bands. Our first conflict was when we both fancied the same guy. Instead of talking about it openly with me, she went on dates with him behind my back and only bothered to make the “do you mind if…” phone call once they were actually dating.

The next time we had a real wobbler was when me and my first proper boyfriend broke up, she seriously flirted with taking his side – continuing to invite him to parties and include him in our friendship group despite the fact that he lived ages away and had never been part of the group in the first place.

The nail in the coffin though was when we were at a party when we were in college. She’d been playing two guys off against each other (one was the bf of the girl who’s birthday it was, and the other was the same girls’ ex) and got found out. So that the girlfriend of the guy she was getting with wouldn’t find out about them, she asked me to take the attention off by sticking with the other guy and making out as though we were the ones flirting and hooking up. Which for some reason I went along with?! Mental, but at that age you just think that’s the kinda thing friends do for each other.

It’s that totally misguided “in the name of friendship” nonsense that I want to get into my characters, though. Those friendships that are absolute disasters that at the time you think are perfectly normal. In hindsight you look back on and think ‘wow what a dick you were’.

One of my main supporting characters is intended to be like this. He’s very close with my MC, but in his self-centered teen years he always uses her as an accessory to his plans. I think that friendships like that must be experienced by loads of people in school and beyond, and it would be cool to see those relationships represented in that middle-ground way of “this person isn’t a bully, but they’re not a good friend either” and give the reader something to really think about – is this character going to be loyal or throw the MC under the bus? How far will the MC be pushed before she turns round and lets him have it? With this character come through for the MC in the end?

It seems like a cool way to draw on my own experience to add a bit more tension to the story, anywho.

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