Last night I saw the movie "American Reunion," the fourth installment of the American Pie franchise. It had its usual pranks and gives nod to all of the jokes and characters that made it popular years ago.
The film looks at the high school class of 1999 come together for their belated reunion. As a fellow 1999 high school graduate, I was particularly interested to see these grown up versions as compared to the teens we've come to know. The movie, while humorous, pays particular attention to the kind of real life challenges early 30 somethings face. There's the idea of living up to your expectations, longing for high school or some other time when things seemed easier and responsibilities were less, the burdens and joys of marriage and early parenthood, finding your way in the world, loving--or hating--being defined by your job and traveling escapades, and so on. It also gives mention to the world of social networking in keeping us all superficially tied together. In short, there was some meat to this plot and while not in line to win any awards, it exceeded my expectations.
I read an interesting review about the movie a couple weeks ago and how Jim, the main character in the American Pie series, really paved the way for the atypical leading man. Beforehand high school films always had dashing, beautiful male characters who were, of course, going to win over the girl or who with a bit of a makeover turned into People Magazine's sexiest man alive. Then came Jim. He's anything but eloquent; he tries too hard often failing terribly, and at the end of the day no heartthrob wall posters are being mass produced with his photo.
Today, however, we see many "every men" in films whether its Andy Samberg, Michael Cera, or Jonah Hill. They're the guys we cheer for not because the storyline directs us to but because we relate to them on some level. This got me thinking about young adult fiction and the characters portrayed in many of the novels coming out. More often than not it's a female lead who describes herself as nothing "special" but who, for whatever reason, wins over the school's hottest guy (usually new in town). Yes, perhaps these non-super model girls are the female versions of Michael Cera and others listed above. The difference I find, however, is that now that we have these wonderfully relatable girl characters, the guys they attract are anything but and rarely do they have anything in common aside from their own physical attraction.
Yes, attraction is important particularly in YA where teens live vicariously through these dating relationships, often while they're trying to navigate their own real world ones. But I have to admit, I miss the Jims of the world (male or female) in YA and would love to see a book chock full of them including *gasp* a relationship that includes two characters us readers can wholeheartedly relate. In short, I want to feel like I know both the MC and their love interest and they really would get together in high school life, not just on the literary page.
One of my first high school dates was dinner at a Taco Bell and off to see the first Austin Powers movie. Sure, not the most romantic setting or glamorous date ever but we held hands at the movie and talked all through dinner. There were no vampires, no trust funds, one of us wasn't the most popular kid in school and the other a social pariah. We were just 14-year-olds.
That's not to say that I don't love a little fantasy or adventure in my fiction, because I do. It's just to say that stories have such a richer texture when we relate to all of the characters and they have that endearing quality that, like Jim, makes us cheer for them.
What would you like to see more of in your fiction?