When I first began writing FORGED IN GRACE, or rather, when the character of Marly whispered in my ear while I stoked a fire in a little cabin overlooking a wild river, I knew right away this would be a story about female friends. I didn’t know it would be a dark exploration, but when all was said and done, I continue to think of this novel as a “dark love story of friendship.” That is to say, it’s a story that celebrates the powerful bonds that young girls forge with one another as they act as surrogates to each other for the mature relationships that will come down the road.
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of friends in my life, but as a girl, I only had one best friend: Sacha. The tried-and-true bestie who was part sister, part romantic stand-in, part keeper of secrets. She could make me feel good or break my heart all in the same day. She was an athlete to my bookworm, daring and brave where I was timid. She came from a loud family with brothers and two European parents. I was a latch-key kid from a “broken” home with two hippie parents.
Like Grace does Marly in the novel, I adored and was slightly in awe of Sacha. She bounced back from sleights while I wilted. She took the world head on, while I crept at it from the shadows. We fought, sometimes for days, but always came back together. Not until high school—though Sacha was a year older than I was—did a wedge come between us, and that wedge was, natch, another girl, named Shawna. A prettier, more sophisticated, worldly girl than me who didn’t use “too big” words and needed to wear a bra. Quickly I became replaced. It was a theme that would repeat in my life as part of the messy geometry of friendship. A theme that seems to happen to so many girls, teaching the painful lesson of jealousy and self-esteem, of loyalty and betrayal.
In FORGED IN GRACE, Grace has an unhealthy bond with the bold, beautiful Marly. Grace wants what Marly seems to have. And yet Marly is all pretense and façade. Her external world hides the darkness she keeps tucked away. What Grace thinks she wants, Marly may not actually have, and vice versa. It’s up to Grace to realize her own talents and power in order to come to see the friendship for what it was, and is. A lesson many girls can use.
Many of my favorite books and movies about dark female friendships touch upon an overt or indirect sexuality between the girls. As an adult I can see now that most of these friendships are not, explicitly, sexual—barring those that really are, of course, and that’s not what I’m talking about in this piece—but rather girls, with their fluid and often early developed emotional lives, need to start exercising these feelings before the boys get around to it. They test them on each other, for better or worse. They project things onto one another that will someday be meant for their mates. In the best of scenarios, they forge life-long friendships; in others, jealousy and competition draw them apart.
As an adult, lucky to have a circle of dear, trusted women friends with whom I can talk honestly and show my dark and messy sides, I now look back on the friends of my youth with a clearer eye. It was my girlfriends upon whom I first tested the strategies of what would someday become my grown-up relationships. Like Grace, those early friendships are important artifacts that reveal precious information to me about myself.