Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be the person whose break up inspired songs like the All American Rejects’ “Gives You Hell”? Anything from T. Swift’s later discography? What about how Britney felt when JT’s “Cry Me a River” came on the scene, throwing their recently ended relationship under the microscope?
Have you considered how it would feel to be a teenage spy/safecracker attempting to go to high school and relate to her peers for the first time? How it would feel to have to lie to new friends?
I think you need to meet Robin Benway’s books.
1. STRONG FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS
Sometimes the spark of a new relationship can overshadow a protagonist’s existing or new friendships in a story, leaving those friends abandoned on the sideline. Benway refuses to let this be the case in her novels. The friendships between characters are just as developed as relationships with significant others.
For instance, in Also Known As, protagonist Maggie attends school for the first time in high school. As a safecracker in a family of spies, she isn’t accustomed to being surrounded by other people her own age—so she’s unsure of what to do when she’s faced with the prospect of liking a boy (let alone that he’s the person she’s supposed to be spying on). An aspect that is given just as much attention is Maggie’s befriending of Roux, the in-your-face former mean girl that just wants a friend and to know what it’s like to have a real family. The pair develop a real friendship that is just as affected by Maggie’s safecracker job as her relationship with Jesse—perhaps even more so.
While The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June explores a slightly different kind of female companionship (the three titular girls are sisters), their relationships with one another are in the forefront of this story. While the three sisters are very different and don’t always get along—youngest June is obsessed with becoming popular, middle sister May is a loner, and April is academically minded—but the hint of danger brings the three girls closer together. It’s obvious in the story that they all understand one another better than anyone else.
2. PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT
Like A.S. King, Benway doesn’t just drop moms and dads on the psychological deserted island of parenting absentia. Audrey’s parents from Audrey, Wait! have a significant presence in their daughter’s life and worry about her as the media starts to invade her private life. When rumors spring up around Audrey, they talk to her about them openly in order to see what is really going on in her life—even when the topic gets a little uncomfortable. The fame that came along with being the subject of an international hit single affects their everyday lives as well as hers.
Maggie’s parents have quite a presence in Also Known As. Since the two of them are spies and Maggie is a safecracker, the family has spent their lives moving from place to place in order to complete assignments and keep their secrets. This setup is not conducive to having a whole lot of friends and casual neighborhood acquaintances, so the family remained very close. They pretty much only had each other and Angelo (who, let’s face it, is really like Maggie’s uncle anyway), so when outside companions are introduced for Maggie, they don’t merely fade into the background. They remain involved in her life and want to know things about how she’s spending her time and with whom she’s spending it.
3. NICE GUY LOVE INTERESTS
Don’t get me wrong, the whole I-hate-you-wait-I-love-you thing makes for some pretty interesting couples in all fiction. Everybody loves a little Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, right? However, there’s something to be said for when a love interest is genuine and forthcoming about their feelings. You can find a couple of boys like this in Benway’s novels.
Jesse from Also Known As is introduced as the pretty-faced, rich playboy with a tendency for trouble. After meeting him, Maggie realizes that he isn’t what he seems—he’s actually very friendly to her and explains his past troubles with embarrassment and modesty.
James from Audrey, Wait! provides another example. While at first he’s Audrey’s semi-dorky co-worker that treats her with a little too much distant professionalism (considering they work in an ice cream shop), he quickly warms up. James is patient, kind, and normal, providing Audrey with the perfect boyfriend while her life is spinning out of control thanks to the popularity of her ex-boyfriend Evan’s song.
Looking for some lighter, contemporary reads that feature music, a tiny bit of magic, or the intrigue of espionage? Robin Benway has what you’re looking for! I wholeheartedly recommend all of her novels, though Audrey, Wait! is my personal favorite. A ton of musical references plus a bold heroine make for a great story. I’m excited to see what she has coming up next!