When I was around 30, I saw a musical called Is There Life After High School? based on the book of the same name. The book’s thesis, IIRC, is that high school leaves it’s imprint on us the rest of our lives; for many of us it’s the high point or low point against which everything else is measured. The musical dramatizes some of the various anecdotes and accounts in the book to make the same point.
I found it very moving. 15 or so years later, I saw another production. It was well done, but it didn’t move me at all. At 30 I responded emotionally to the idea of being shaped by high school; by my mid-forties, not so much.
Which is a roundabout way to get to my topic, various stories I’ve read recently where a minor plot element is people growing up and adulting but not getting over high school.
The cozy mysteries No Saving Throw and Ghost and the Femme Fatale both involve the female protagonist locking horns with the Mean Girl Alpha Bitch she knew back in high school. Even though it’s been at least 10 years since they graduated, their relationship hasn’t changed and the Mean Girl seems to go out of her way to spoil the protagonist’s life (in fairness, I skimmed a lot of both books so the characterization may have deepened as it went along). The same premise figured into the CW’s Emily Owens MD: protagonist Emily discovers her high school nemesis is in the same residence program she is and oh noes, they like the same boy! The show died fast, in case you were wondering.
I don’t see that sort of thing in male-centered stories, but I do seem to have seen a lot of stories like Take Me Home Tonight in which the protagonist is completely obsessed over his high school crush even several years later. Heck, Ross’s fixation on Rachel was a running thread through all the seasons of Friends.
I’m sure it’s partly my distance from high school that makes me notice this stuff, but it still seems unconvincing. Sure, there were people I didn’t like in high school and I had no particular desire to ever see them again, but when I did, I just nodded and moved on. And they showed no particular interest in doing anything about me. Heck, even Flash Thompson and Peter Parker eventually became buddies and put Flash’s high school jerkitude behind them.
I had some crushes too, but by the time I graduated college I wasn’t looking back at H.S. and hoping some day we’d hook up (I did hang on to that fantasy about a couple of college crushes for quite a while). Though I wonder if that particular trope isn’t a subset of “your first love is your true love and the only one for you” which I see in quite a few rom-coms (I really don’t like that one either). This could work if the crush/first love was convincingly awesome enough, but I notice they rarely are; Take Me Home Tonight‘s protagonist is some kind of supergenius MIT grad, but the female lead is just generically attractive.
I asked some of my female friends on FB about the Mean Girls thing and the majority view (not universal) was that no, unless it’s a town small enough that the community can typecast you for life (you’re The Jock, The Smooth Talker, The Brainiac, The Weirdo, etc.) it’s unlikely to happen. And in fairness, both the cozies took place in that kind of community. Even so, I think carrying over high school relationships as a defining part of the story has become, for me, a bridge too far.
#SFWApro. Cover by Steve Ditko, all rights remain with current holder.