The 16 Most Unforgettable School Cliques in Literature
We're well into August, and you know what that means — time to dig up those Latin flashcards, wrap up your summer reading, and begin a daily regimen of mentally steeling yourself for your return to the sadistic, Machiavellian nightmarescape battleground that is school.
Okay, fine, it's not all a sadistic, Machiavellian nightmarescape battleground — there are sometimes good teachers, sometimes good friends, and sometimes, they serve those French toast sticks for lunch. But for a place that's ostensibly about learning from books, most of the lasting lessons we pick up in school are from watching our friends and each other — whether we're passionately supporting each other, passionately terrorizing each other, or passionately trying to frame each other for murder.
The 16 cliques below have taught us some of the most unforgettable lessons (including some lessons we'd much prefer to forget) about life in high school and beyond. Whether notable for their extreme devotion to each other, extreme hatred of each other, or a weird combination of the two, the cliques below exemplify the intense feelings that abound in school, and the many ways they can go wrong (and the few ways they can also go right).
Clique: The Classics Tutorial students
Ah, college: you take some classes, you do some keg stands, you accidentally kill a local farmer during a an ancient Greek-style bacchanal overseen by your ultra-exclusive clique of rich Classical Studies major friends and then cover it up. Best four years of your life!
What made them unforgettable: Donna Tartt's infamous crew of highbrow lowlives spend the rest of their lives paying for the mistakes of their collegiate clique — but it doesn't make them any less loathsome, or the life lessons they teach about class, guilt, and power any less brutal.
Clique: Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle
Arrogant, cruel, and dumb all at once, Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle were totally the Heathers of the wizarding world, right? Except Crabbe and Goyle are both totally Heather McNamara.
What made them unforgettable: No matter what problems you had going on at your own school, you could always take comfort in the fact that you didn't have any Slytherin jerk-offs beating your ass through your Invisibility Cloak and killing all the cool teachers.
Clique: The Unicorn Club
Why let your clique be a plain old informal grouping of mean popular girls who crush their classmates' souls, when you can create a formal fraternal organization of mean popular girls who crush their classmates' souls, and also have like a treasurer and stuff? The Unicorn Club, which first appeared in the Sweet Valley Twins series before spinning off into its own line of books, was just such a formal organization, providing an efficient and highly structured training ground for future high school bullies like Lila Fowler and Jessica Wakefield to learn the tricks of the trade.
What made them unforgettable: Much like the mythical creature that gave the group its name, all members of the Unicorn Club were pretty and also always only about three seconds away from "accidentally" stabbing you.
Clique: The Group
Of course, school cliques don't automatically call it quits just because you've finished school. Sometimes they dog you for decades, as you try to figure out life as a modern woman in the 1940s, deal with sexism and setbacks, and eventually fall out of a hotel window. But don't take my word for it! Ask the titular clique of Vassar students from Mary McCarthy's 1963 bestseller, who find their college buddies quite difficult to shake from their adult lives, no matter how hard they try.
Clique: The Lisbon sisters
When does a close-knit group of sisters also count as a clique? Is it when the behavior becomes completely inscrutable to outsiders? Is it when they spend all of their lives together? Is it when they plan to end their lives together?
What made them unforgettable: The five doomed Lisbon sisters combined sisterly togetherness with the bleakest hive mind clique behavior that high school has to offer, resulting in one of the most haunting depictions of teen angst run amok ever put on paper.
Clique: The Greasers
What is a 1950s gang but a clique with knives, anyway?
What made them unforgettable: Though often unsure of how to make good choices or get a fair shot in life, the Greasers work hard to protect each other, from both a society that didn't care about their well-being and from rival clique-with-knives The Socs.
Clique: The “best friends”
With frenemies like this, who needs actual enemies? Elaine's clique of cruel "best friends" run hot and cold on her throughout their youth, leaving her confused and unable to trust women for decades after they've left each other's orbits.
What made them unforgettable: Atwood's novel acknowledges the lasting damage that cliques can bring into our lives, while also suggesting that it's never too late to heal from the damage done by them.
Clique: Margaret’s friends
Is puberty the biggest clique of all? Accepting some of us, while cruelly forcing others to sadly sit in our secret hideouts, chanting about how we must increase our busts?
What made them unforgettable: Margaret's friends — obsessed with bras and periods and all sorts of other things that seem exciting in middle school, but start to feel like a pain in the ass by the time you hit your late teens — and their desperate wishes to grow up showed how even fairly benign peer pressure can make your day-to-day life more complex and annoying than it has to be. Plus, what would they do if they knew Judy Blume herself had admitted that the "bust" exercise doesn't even work?
Clique: Ernessa's friends
Some cliques will truly suck the life right out of you. Is Ernessa an actual vampire who is literally sucking the blood out of her friends at her all-girl's high school? Or merely so high-maintenance that she's wearing them all out?
What made them unforgettable: In Klein's novel, the actual status of Ernessa's vampirosity seemed almost besides the point: the real horror was the exhausting way that intense, exclusive high school friendships can go wrong.
Clique: Sam and Patrick’s friends
At this point in the list, you might be saying to yourself, "Does anything good ever come from having friends in school? All they do is drink your blood and make you anxious and force you to do boob-expansion exercises! Should we all just find ourselves a nice, comfortable cave and then wait things out there until we're 24 or so?" Luckily, we’ve finally come to a positive example. Sam, Patrick, and their group of friends play a key role in helping loner Charlie come out of his shell and make peace with his troubled past. Plus, they take him to see Rocky Horror and teach him about indie rock. Who could ask for anything more from their high school crew?
What made them unforgettable: Charlie's friendships showed how cliques could be a force for good, a support system for creating a better life (even if they did start a little drama along the way).
Clique: The Ace Gang
Are you in aggers? Do you have friends you can go to when you're experiencing a fit of red-bottomosity? Are you on the verge of a nervy b? Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?
What made them unforgettable: Unlike a lot of cliques on this list, the Ace Gang looked out for each other, and (mostly) use the power of their friendship as a force for good, not evil (trying to get made out with counts as "good," right?)
Clique: The cheerleaders
Though cliques full of mean girls can make going to school feel like a regular Saturday afternoon in Hell, they tend to save their most bilious behavior for each other, like the cheerleading queen bees in this suburban noir novel do.
What made them unforgettable: The revelation that the girls of the cheer squad were not confused or misunderstood, but actual unthinking sociopaths, following the crowd without considering the repercussions of their actions, puts a different spin on conformity and peer pressure than most high school narratives. There, did that comfort you at all? No? Sorry.
Clique: The Constance Billard crew
All those Pretty Little Lying Game It Clique Girls you love so much? None of them would exist without this opening salvo of entitled, wealthy clique-itude fired by the bad bitches from Constance Billard.
What made them unforgettable: These haute, haughty basket-cases raised the bar on high school bad behavior, turning regular peer-on-peer torment into an art form, something so campy and over-the-top, you had to laugh. Raise a glass of Dom Perignon (or, failing that, Diet Coke) in their general direction.
Clique: The Basic Eight
Back before he was calling himself Lemony Snicket and teaching pre-teens that life is a series of depressing Victorian gothic mysteries, Daniel Handler wrote a novel about a group of eight pretentious high school students in at a prestigious San Francisco high school, whose experiments with absinthe, dinner parties, and other trappings of adulthood quickly lead them to murder, tabloid infamy, and lunch boxes used as purses.
What made them unforgettable: Despite a silly ending, this novel about evil cliques in high school satirizes novels about evil cliques in high school, while still making you feel better about the evil cliques in your high school. They're probably miserable and on the verge of killing each other and high on absinthe, you know!
Clique: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Sometimes, it seems like finding a supportive group of friends to get you through your school years is a lot harder than finding a magical pair of jeans that fits everyone who tries them on and also pairs nicely with a wide variety of tops.
What made them unforgettable: Despite the positive power of cliques in many of our high school lives, literature is full of depictions of female clique friendships gone wrong. Which is why this gang of girls — whose loving friendship is downright magical at times (see: magical pair of jeans) — remains so special. (But oh my god, that fifth book does NOT COUNT.)
Clique: The popular kids
Though no one comes off looking particularly good in Stephen King's debut novel — not "Creepy" Carrie White herself, or even poor gym teacher Rita Desjardin — the popular girls, who as a unit torment Carrie with everything from thrown tampons to a big ol' bucket of pig's blood, take the proverbial evil clique cake. Carrie's ultimate inability to believe that reformed popular girl Sue Snell has changed is, more than anything, a tribute to the painful power of the clique.
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