Thank you to the lovely people at Dutton Books for my copy of Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer and at Flatiron Books for my copy of Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao. All thoughts and images are my own.
Today, I’m pairing two reads with similar messages about the essential nature of female friendships.
There are few things I value more in life than my female friends and the friendships they have provided me. I went to an all girls school for fourteen years where I was surrounded by women who showed me how powerful having a good friend could be. In college, I found another group of women with different interests and different backgrounds from those friends I had in high school. Nevertheless, they approached our friendships with the same level of passion. I’m so happy to have been able to carry both sets of friendships into my life in NYC, adding a few more along the way. One of the things I like best about myself is that I think I am a good friend. I pride myself on my propensity to show up for those who are important to me.
While I thought the information in Text Me When You Get Home could have been distilled into an article, I was happy with the message that I took away from it. Female friends have an amazing ability to support one another. Into our female friendships, we pour our hearts and souls. This hasn’t always been the case – for years, a woman’s life was defined by the path her husband took. If his job called for them to move, they moved, regardless of how far that took her from her friends.
As a personal anecdote, I come from a line of women that defies that stereotype that older generations are not as dependent on their female friends. My grandmother has the closest female friends of any woman I’ve ever met. She also attended an all girls school, and a few months ago I was connected with the alumni coordinator of said school. When she found out who my grandmother was and what graduating class she was a member of, she said that was a “golden year.” And that she was impressed by every one of those women and how close they remained after graduation. I told her that’s how my grandmother had always referred to her friends, but that I assumed each class was like that in their own way. She told me no, that my grandmother and her friends were something special. And knowing them, I believe her.
Back to the book. In terms of the writing, I think there is a more interesting way to prove the point Schaefer is trying to prove. It can remain nonfiction, but I’d give it a bit more of a narrative. Pick four case studies and follow those four women throughout the entire book. Interview them, read their diaries, talk to their friends.
As a counterpoint, albeit a fictional one, Girls Burn Brighter has an extremely powerful narrative about two girls who genuinely would not have survived without each other’s friendship. Text Me When You Get Home debunks the “mean girl myth” and Schaefer is right – everyone is mean. It’s not just girl on girl. Boys shove each other into lockers. Husbands abuse their wives and parents abuse their children. Meanness is not limited to the way girls treat one another in middle school. It is everywhere.
In Girls Burn Brighter, the world and everyone in it are painfully mean to Poornima and Savitha. This book is not for the faint of heart. The descriptions of the violence perpetrated against both women are brutal. The men in their world are absolutely horrible to them again and again. The other women are no better. Poornima and Savitha push through this terrifying and dark world in spite of all that.
Rao is a powerful storyteller. The imagery in her novel is crystal clear. You can smell what Poornima and Savitha smell and hear what they hear. It makes their pain so much more palpable. And the ending so much more poignant.
Synopses: (as told by the back of the book)
Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship
Text me when you get home.
After joyful nights out together, female friends say this to one another as a way of expressing their love. It’s about safety; but more than that, it’s about solidarity.
From Broad City to Big Little Lies to what women say about their own best friends, the stories we’re telling about female friendship have changed. What used to be written off as infighting between mean girls or disposable relationships that would be tossed as soon as a guy came along are no longer described like that. Now, we’re lifting up our female friendships to the same level as our other important relationships, saying they matter just as much as the bonds we have with our romantic partners, children, parents, or siblings.
Journalist Kayleen Schaefer relays her journey of modern female friendship: from being a competitive teenager to trying to be one of the guys in the workplace to ultimately awakening to the power of female friendships and the soulmates, girl squads, and chosen families that come with it.
Schaefer has put together a completely new sociological perspective on the way we see our friends today, one that includes interviews with dozens of other women across the country: historians, creators of the most iconic films and television show about female friendship (and Galentine’s Day!), celebrities, authors, and other experts. The end result is a validation of female friendship that’s never existed before.
Girls Burn Brighter
Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them. They are poor. They are driven. And they are girls.
When Poornima was just a toddler, she was about to fall into a river. Her mother, beside herself, screamed at her father to grab her. But he hesitated: “I was standing there, and I was thinking…She’s just a girl. Let her go…That’s the thing with girls, isn’t it?… You think, Push. That’s all it would take. Just one little push.”
After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to take care of her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima beings to imagine a life beyond the arranged marriage her father is desperate to secure for her. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima laves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend. Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face ruthless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within them.