Remember the summer when you had no responsibilities to fulfill, no bills to pay, and no deadlines to meet (besides your curfew)? For a lot of us, the summer after high school graduation just might be the first and last totally free stretch of time we have in our adult lives—which is why it’s the stuff so many stories we love are made from.
The rock musical Girlfriend, with book by Todd Almond and music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet, opens on the last day of high school in Alliance, Nebraska, in 1993. Prom king and baseball star Mike has just surprised outcast Will with a mixtape. Could this mean he’s dealing with the same feelings as Will? And so Will and Mike embark on a summer of self-discovery and romance, one that doesn’t seem made to last: Mike is heading to college in Lincoln in the fall.
An expiration date is just one source of tension for the characters in the many American movies and novels set in the summer after high school graduation. Many of them are also dealing with parental disapproval, class warfare, financial stresses, and changing friendships. These post-graduation summer stories are as notable for what they have in common as for what sets them apart. As Girlfriend opens at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, here’s a list of 18 great movies and novels set during that fateful season:
- Seventeenth Summer (1942) What’s considered to be one of the first YA novels tells the story of Angie and Jack, who fall in love despite the fact that she’s college-bound while he’s heading to work at his uncle’s bakery.
- Splendor in the Grass (1961) In late 1920s Kansas, two high school sweethearts grapple with the pressures of class, sex, and parental expectations.
- American Graffiti (1973) As the summer of 1962 draws to a close, teenagers cruise around small-town California—breaking up and making up, chasing after girls, drag racing, and trying to decide whether to stick around or head East for college.
- Breaking Away (1979) It’s townies versus college kids in this story of four friends in Bloomington, Indiana, who don’t quite know what’s next for them until they decide to enter a bicycle race run by the university.
- The Flamingo Kid (1984) A kid from a poor Brooklyn neighborhood takes a summer job at a fancy Long Island beach club, where he falls under the spell of a suave car dealer and gin rummy champion.
- In Country (1985) Sam is a typical teenager, trying to choose a college, breaking up with her high school boyfriend, confiding in her best friend—except that she’s obsessed with the Vietnam War, which took her father’s life.
- EuroTrip (2004) Four American friends take the ultimate graduation trip to Europe for an adventure ranging from an absinthe-fueled night in Bratislava to a major mishap at the Vatican.
- An Abundance of Katherines (2006) After being his latest girlfriend named Katherine (number 19 in a series) breaks up with him, former child prodigy Colin Singleton hits the road with his best friend, Hassan, on a quest to discover why Colin keeps getting dumped.
- The Wackness (2008) All his friends have left New York City for the summer, but Luke Shapiro’s stuck in town, dealing marijuana to pay for psychiatry sessions while nursing a crush on his shrink’s stepdaughter.
- The Vast Fields of Ordinary (2009) When his kind-of boyfriend Pablo rejects him, closeted Dade feels more alienated then ever—until he meets drug-dealing love interest Alex and becomes friends with cool, confident Lucy, a lesbian who’s comfortable in her own skin.
- Toy Story 3 (2010) With their owner Andy about to head off for college, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and their fellow toys have to make new lives for themselves.
- Alice on Board (2012) Working on the crew of a Chesapeake Bay cruise ship with her best girlfriends seems like the perfect summer job for Alice before she starts college…except things don’t quite go perfectly.