There are a lot of elements that make up an excellent book.
Lyrical writing, a well thought-out plot, good description, a well-drawn setting, among other things.
But my favorite thing about books–the thing that turns a good book into a great one for me–is the characters. More specifically, the relationships between the characters.
Nothing gets me more and keeps me reading than watching well-drawn characters interact with each other. When thinking about my favorite books, it always comes down to the character relationships.
So here, in no particular order, are my favorite literary relationships:
1. Rob and Cassie, In the Woods Tana French’s first book, which comes second in my opinion only to her second, is a murder mystery, but my favorite thing about this book is how the crime-solving takes a backseat to something far more interesting: the psychological states of the detectives trying to solve the crime. At the center of this are Rob and Cassie, single, straight detectives in their early thirties who are best friends as well as partners. It may sound like one of those obnoxious will-they-or-won’t-they tropes, but it’s not; it’s so much more.
But a girl who goes into battle beside you and keeps your back is a different thing, a thing to make you shiver. Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love: that blinding explosion that left you crackling to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other’s hands.
2. Cassie, Daniel, Rafe, Abby, and Justin, The Likeness French’s follow up to In the Woods finds Cassie not only dealing with the fallout of the mind-fuckery that was that novel, but at the same time being thrown into a new murder case in which the victim is identical to her. She then goes undercover as the victim and moves in with the victim’s four best friends. Implausible plot? For sure. But this is the best novel I’ve ever read, thanks mainly to these brilliant characters, so if you haven’t yet, I suggest you suspend your disbelief and dive right in. The relationships between all five of these characters kept me riveted.
That kind of friendship doesn’t just materialize at the end of the rainbow one morning in a soft-focus Hollywood haze. For it to last this long, and at such close quarters, some serious work had gone into it. Ask any ice-skater or ballet dancer or show jumper, anyone who lives by beautiful moving things: nothing takes as much work as effortlessness.
3. Liesel and Rudy, The Book Thief There are several beautifully heartbreaking relationships in The Book Thief, the story of a young girl living in Germany during World War II. But my favorite is the one Liesel, the protagonist, has with her best friend Rudy. They start off as these innocent little kids but the horrific events of the 1940s take their toll, and turn them into so much more.
“Hair the color of lemons,'” Rudy read. His fingers touched the words. “You told him about me?”
4. Emma and Dexter, One Day This story (which I just realized I have somehow never reviewed, despite my love for it) is about two friends and the twists and turns their lives take. It checks in on them on July 15th of every year for nearly two decades beginning with their first run-in in college. Sometimes they’re together on this day and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re sympathetic and lovely, and sometimes they’re not. I love this relationship because these people are so very realistically imperfect.
In eight years not a day has gone by when she hasn’t thought of him. She misses him and she wants him back. I want my best friend back, she thinks, because without him nothing is good and nothing is right.
5. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Harry Potter (obviously) There are equally a good many touching relationships in the greatest book series of all time, but my favorite has always been the central friendship that existed from nearly the very beginning of the first book.
“He must have known I’d want to leave you.”
“No, he must have known you would always want to come back.”
6. Will, Jem, and Tessa, The Infernal Devices Another favorite series chock full of action and defeating evil where my favorite thing about it was the character relationships. Tessa meets Will and Jem, two best friends who couldn’t be more different from each other. This could have so easily devolved into your typically annoying love triangle, but it didn’t, and I love that.
“What you said before,” Tessa asked. “That they love each other more than anyone you’ve ever known except someone — you never finished the sentence. Who was it?”
“I was going to say you and me and Will,” Jem said. “But — that’s rather a strange thing to say, isn’t it?”
“Not strange at all.” She cuddled in close against his side. “Exactly right. Ever and always, exactly right.”
7. Gansey and Ronan, The Raven Cycle This is another series where the central relationships are friendships, and while I love the relationships between all of the main characters, it’s Gansey and Ronan who get to me the most. The rich, preppy, earnest boy and the antisocial black sheep who care so much about each other that imagining something happening to one of them very nearly breaks your heart.
When Ronan thought of Gansey, he thought of moving into Monmouth Manufacturing, of nights spent in companionable insomnia, of a summer searching for a king, of Gansey asking the Gray Man for his life. Brothers.
You know what’s interesting–that with few exceptions here, my favorite literary relationships are friendships. Perhaps that’s why I love Tana French so much; all her novels, with the exception of one, focus on the love between friends and how powerful and sometimes dangerous that love can be.
What are your favorite literary relationships? I could always use more good reads….
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