Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Jessica Darling Books by Megan McCafferty

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I gotta thank my good friend Taren for discussing these books with me and thus helping me create this review.

** Major spoilers ahead **

First thing I’ll start out saying is that there’s a major divide between books two and three, and I think the reason Charmed Thirds received the negative backlash it did is because people were hung up on Second Helpings and expected the same tone to carry throughout. To like and understand this series you have to understand that the first two books take place in high school and it’s more familiar ground for the vast majority of its readers, who probably were in high school when they read it. The third takes place in college—it’s a whole different world, in fact it’s closer to the real world, where things are more complicated and the world is not as small as it is when you’re in high school.

With that out of the way, let me start at the beginning:

Sloppy Firsts is sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling’s diary for the last semester of her sophomore year and the first semester of her junior year. Her best friend Hope’s moved away, her parents couldn’t be more clueless about her and her needs if they tried, and she’s got no friends. Well, she does—except she hates all of them. They’re your typical in-crowd (or Upper Crust, as Jessica calls it): a bit dumb, very annoying, and endlessly bratty. “Jessica is quite hopeless. (Ha. In more ways than one.)” The moment that Hope moves away marks the beginning of the rest of Jessica’s life, because everything that happens that year is significant to the other books in the series.

I immediately fell in love with Sloppy Firsts not only for Jessica’s voice—it’s quite obvious I like snark, and she’s got plenty of it—but because I related a lot to Jessica. In fact, if it weren’t for Marcus Flutie, I would think Jessica was me. We were both runners, we both thought everyone around us were a bunch of idiots, and we were both very cynical about pretty much everything. But like I said—she’s got Marcus Flutie, druggie dreg, who’s interesting and an utter enigma, and she doesn’t know her own feelings for him. What’s more, it feels like he gets her.

But at the end she finds out it was all a farce and pushes him away.

Second Helpings is her journal during the summer before senior year and her senior year. She’s still cynical, witty, et al, as ever, but now she’s struggling with her college choices. In the meantime, there’s still Marcus in the background—and also his best friend Len. She wants nothing to do with Marcus, after all. She’s obsessing about being the last virgin—aside from Len—in her school. All those great Class Brainiac things.

Through a too-complicated-to-describe series of trials and tribulations (ick, hate that set phrase, but it is what it is), she accepts Marcus’s apology and they get together. She gets into her top choice college—Columbia—and it turns out her grandmother left her $50,000 in her will, which Jessica will use to pay for college. Everything ends up working out.

And this is where people end up confusing things. Second Helpings had a huge fairy-tale feel to it. Charmed Thirds? Not so much. Marcus, as always, is “predictable in his unpredictability.” His character goes from dream guy—admit it, you had a crush on him—to real guy, one who’s not always so…perfect. He makes it hard to like him. Jessica doesn’t know what to do, so she goes on with her life and sleeps with different guys and is, you know, as always, Jessica.

** End of spoilers **

I wasn’t as keen on the third as I was on the first and second because it’s just easier to like books where the characters do what you want them to do, but I still loved it. And here’s the thing—as Taren is always saying, these are those kinds of books where the main character, Jessica, is much too relatable and similar to you than is comfortable. (But don’t mistake her for an Evergirl character. Like I said: relatable. Not fill-in-the-blank.) She makes these books some of the most realistic you’ll find in YA and in crossover.

Even though these are very ordinary in their plot and such (it is mirrored on reality after all), the writing style is great, funny and insightful and filled with clever phrases and alliterations. Jessica’s observations are hilarious. The characters—especially the main ones—all have depth. In fact, Taren told me she thought this is why people found it hard to like Marcus in the later books—he’s an actual character and you can’t attribute him your own fantasies, because he’s got his own personality and is not a blank canvas.

Annnnnd. Then there’s Fourth Comings. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it. On the one hand, I understand Jessica—as always. On the other hand, I didn’t like how some characters were portrayed in it, like Bethany, who I think lost all her depth from Charmed Thirds. I could see it as a natural progression to the series, granted, but there’s still a lot riding on Perfect Fifths.

If you haven’t read these already, be mindful of the difference between the first two books and the last two. They’re in different settings and it’s to be expected the characters will adapt to the new surroundings.

Definitely recommended. These books are tied for second with Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy on my list of favorites. Series overall grade? A-
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Unknown said...

You make me want to have another go at Fourth Comings.

And you're welcome!

Anonymous said...

I love the Gemma Doyle trilogy.. so perhaps our taste in books is somewhat alike, and I'll like this series as well. =)

Khy said...

I've only read the first book in this series and must say that I wasn't particularly moved or impressed by it. It was very good and I liked it, but after finishing it I was just thinking "Well, that was a good book. Now, what should I read next?" I'm going to finish reading the series eventually, so I hope I like the next books better.

Knowing me, I'll like the fourth one the most just because everyone else doesn't like it. xD

the story siren said...

these books are one of my top five all time favorite books. i had a hard time with fourth comings.. but not because of what happens, but it just lacked something the other books had. i can't wait to read the next book.

loved seeing your insight into the books!

Alea said...

I'm scared that when I start Fourth Comings (it's happening in 2009) I won't remember like anything from the other books :( I had my friend do a recap a few months ago for me... but that was a few months ago!

jocelyn said...

I love all these books! You're right, though, they are different, and rightly so, as Jessica is different, life is different, etc. I can't wait for Perfect Fifths.

Sarah Woodard said...

I want to re-read these books again. I am going to wait till a bit before Perfect Fifth, to do so.

Amee said...

I didn't read the review because you said major spoilers. I think this is the first review you wrote ever that I haven't read. Once I read the books, though, I'll come back and read it. ;)

Shalonda said...

I've only heard good things about this series. Since you and Kristi have so many flattering things to say about it, I should go ahead and start reading the first one. Maybe I'll get to read it over the next two weeks!

Anonymous said...

i'm from the philippines and i've just read the whole series this weekend. i can't wait for perfect fifths. i guess your description of jessica on the first two books were just perfect... i loved her then because she does what i think she should be doing... liek every decision she makes (even those relating to marcus) are just what i expect and want her to do. on the next two books i loved it that jessica and marcus evolved to whole new personalities. she still has her wit and interesting look at her world but "thriving in the city" doesn't seem to work well with the someone who as eccentric as marcus.
whew. can't wait for marcus and jd in perfect fifths.

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