The Diabolic and the Complicated Female Relationships of YA

November 4, 2016
Alice Min
Riveted Editorial Board

We’re all super excited for the rest of the world to finally read The Diabolic. Ahhh! There’s just so much I want to discuss! Most of all I want to analyze—and fangirl over—the complicated, multi-layered relationship between Nemesis and Sidonia. Just a brief bit of background without any spoilers… Nemesis is the titular “Diabolic,” a genetically engineered human weapon created to kill anyone who harms her master—in this case, Sidonia (Our extended excerpt goes well beyond Nemesis and Sidonia’s origin story so check it out). There are so many levels of emotions to unpack in their relationship, from their forced bond as master and weapon to their political teamwork to their friendship that is so much more than just a friendship—did I mention they pass the Bechdel Test in the first chapter?

On Riveted, we’ve celebrated awesome girl squads, now here’s a list of five standout portrayals of complicated female relationships in YA to read up on while I wait for the rest of the world to start obsessing over The Diabolic with me.

Meg & Jo March

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


No list about female relationships is complete without this classic. Meg and Jo March are pretty much polar opposites. Meg embodies traditional feminine virtues. She’s pretty, patient, and often lectures her younger sisters on how to become perfect “little women.” Jo is tomboyish, rejects a marriage proposal from an eligible bachelor to focus on her career as a writer, and has a formidable temper. While they disagree on almost everything, the two women work together to raise their younger sisters through bouts of scarlet fever, poverty, and the instability of the Civil War. Meg and Jo prove that there’s no set way to be a strong female character.

Lia & Cassie

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson


After Lia’s ex-best friend Cassie dies from bulimia, Lia’s anorexia worsens and she begins to cut herself. Throughout the novel, Cassie’s ghost haunts Lia trying to hasten her death by calling her fat and ugly. Cassie and Lia are absolutely terrible for each other. They compete to see who can self harm the most while perpetuating destructive body images. Despite all the problems with their friendship, Wintergirls never glorifies or lessens Lia or Cassie’s choices. Instead the audience is painfully aware that Lia and Cassie’s inevitably harmful friendship stems from neglectful families and a society that only values young women by their appearances. The fact that (spoiler alert!) Lia banishes Cassie’s ghost and finds the will to survive, symbolizes her defiance against a world that has forgotten her.

Lettie & Martha

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones


While Lettie and Martha aren’t the main characters of this fairytale twist that focuses on their elder sister Sophie’s adventure with a reclusive wizard, their rebellion against gendered expectations is protagonist-worthy. In the Kingdom of Ingary, the eldest daughter is cursed to never be successful, while the youngest will have great fortune. Therefore, Sophie, Lettie, and Martha Hatter are expected to follow predetermined paths. Sophie will inherit the family hat shop; Lettie will work at a local bakery, while Martha will study magic. However, Lettie wants to learn magic, and Martha wants to live a simple life with her sweetheart. Lettie and Martha, in an awesome moment of defiance, use magic to switch appearances and take each other’s places, showing us that nothing can stop two smart and resourceful girls from working together to create their own futures.

Tally & Shay

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld


Tally longs for the day she turns 16 and transforms from an Ugly to Pretty. However Tally’s simple understanding of her world changes when she befriends Shay, an independent thinker who teaches Tally how to hoverboard before running away to a secret society called the Smoke. Then Special Circumstances, a creepy government organization, gives Tally an ultimatum: find Shay and the Smoke or never become a Pretty. Tally follows Shay’s clues to the Smoke with the intent to betray. However once Tally finds Shay and the other runaway Uglies, she learns to value her own uniqueness and stand up for what she believes in. But of course there is that pesky detail that she was sent to betray her new friends. Beyond learning from each other, Tally and Shay’s relationship must overcome the burden of betrayals, jealousy, and forgiveness while leading a revolution.

Sam & Juliet

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver


Sam is the epitome of a shallow mean girl. She is popular, pretty, and bullies Juliet Sykes for no apparent reason. Before I Fall could have easily turned into a YA novel that perpetuates the toxic stereotypes of girls as overdramatic backstabbers, but Lauren Oliver turns the tables by focusing on Sam’s reformation. Sam dies in a car crash and in a Groundhog Day-esqe twist, she is forced to relive the day of her death over and over again. She slowly realizes the consequences of her senseless bullying and tries to make amends with Juliet. Through their changing relationship Juliet and Sam find meaning in life. Juliet gains the confidence to stand up for herself, while Sam learns to empathize. However, Before I Fall is a story of redemption smart enough to realize that one final day is too little too late, demonstrating that true forgiveness requires sacrifice.

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