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Just Friends

I love Valentine’s Day, but not for the saccharine, sappy romantic gestures that generally accompany it. What I enjoy most is the opportunity to send love, appreciation and sappy sentiments to friends. Everyone needs a Leslie Knope to their Ann Perkins, and who doesn’t want to hear that they are a “beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox.” After all, friends aren’t “just friends,” they’re key to a happy and well-balanced life.

So instead of a list of romances, I thought I’d share some of my favorite books about friendship. In each of these books, acts of friendship are transformative, demonstrating the significant difference one person can make in another’s life. These titles also reflect the variety of friendships we have in all the seasons of our lives — even those friendships we must let go and grieve.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Sadie Green and Sam Masur meet in the waiting room of a children’s hospital. Sam is a patient, and Sadie a visitor. They bond over a shared love of video games and begin a friendship that evolves — for better and worse — over a lifetime. This is without a doubt the best love story about friendship I’ve read, and Sam and Sadie’s relationship is treated with all the deep emotions, miscommunications and complexities that real-world friendships present.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
While Eleanor describes herself as “absolutely fine,” others might disagree. She lives an isolated life with a strict, self-imposed routine that involves one 15-minute phone conversation with her mother each Wednesday, two bottles of vodka every weekend and no haircuts since she was 13. When she and a colleague witness an elderly man collapse onto the street and work together to help him, they begin a friendship that will transform them both.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I recently saw the film adaption of this 2014 novel by Swedish novelist Fredrik Backman and found it to be just as delightful as the book (a rare occurrence). Ove is known as the “bitter neighbor from hell,” but when a young couple with two children move in next door, he is reluctantly pulled back into the joys and comforts of community.

All This Could be Different by Sarah Thankam Matthews
One of my favorite books of last year, All This Could Be Different perfectly captures the equal parts hope and angst of one’s early adulthood. The protagonist is Sneeha, a recent college graduate who has moved to the Midwest for her first job — a consultant in a manufacturing firm. The expectations of adulthood soon bump up against the realities of a recession, bungled relationships and unresolved familial strife. Through it, Sneha forms a patchwork community of friends who help her learn to both give and receive love and support.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Okay, this book has to come with a few content warnings. It deals with some incredibly difficult topics including sexual abuse and self-harm. This book will tear your heart out and stomp on it.

While listening to the audio version, I did the following at least once: yelled, ugly cried and texted a friend in disbelief at what was happening. All this said, friendship forms the heart of this novel and is what makes it possible for the main character Jude to experience any love, support and a little life.

See these along with a few other books about friendship — some heartwarming, some darkly humorous — in the full list here.

Rebecca Howard is the regional manager of Tulsa City-County Library. During her 15 years with Tulsa City-County Library, Rebecca launched the readers advisory service Your Next Great Read, and served as TCCL’s county-wide Literacy Coordinator. Rebecca writes Public Radio Tulsa's monthly column Imprint.