Charmed Thirds is the third installment in the Jessica Darling series. This book, continuing in journal form, covers Jessica’s entire 3.5 year college career in bits and pieces. Jessica gets a fabulous internship at an ultra-hip magazine, only to discover she hates it. She pursues a psychology major with no hopes of pursuing a psychology-related career. She goes through a series of inferior-to-Hope BFFs. She cheats on Marcus, he moves to some secluded desert camp, and they don’t speak to one another except for the one-word postcards Marcus periodically sends. Jessica rebounds with some inferior-to-Marcus boyfriends and ends up being cheated on. She struggles to make ends meet when her parents cut her off financially. In short, Jessica Darling grows up.
At one point, Jessica goes back to Pineville for graduation and encounters Taryn Baker. “As an about-to-graduate senior in high school, Taryn’s got hubris out the wazoo.” And this not only made me laugh (as I was at the time experiencing the extreme hubris of high school students), but refers to what Jessica is losing in her transformation from teen to young adult over the course of this book. Losing her hubris is her first step towards adulthood. Her pride at being the smartest student, the greatest long-distance friend, and the greatest long-distance girlfriend all end up being upended at Columbia. She’s around people of her intellectual caliber and they still annoy her; they’re still imperfect and selfish and phony. She barely keeps in contact with Hope. She cheats on Marcus (with a Republican). She contemplates an affair with a married man. The above-it-all Jessica we knew from Pineville High School is being knocked off her pedestal. She clearly doesn’t know it all, can’t get by without the help of her family, and isn’t of such superior moral stock as she thought she was. It is a particularly painful part of growing up to realize that you don’t have everything figured out and that you are an inherently flawed human being who needs other people. As a result, this isn’t really Jessica in her finest moment. She’s difficult to like at points and it is pretty painful to watch her make some stupid mistakes. But… if we are watching Jessica grow up, we have to accept that she’s got to make the difficult transition from immortal teen to mortal adult.
I had been warned that this was the low point of the series and if you read reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see it is not as well-received or as well-liked as the first two in the series. I actually enjoyed the book, but think that has to do mainly with how much I related to Jessica’s struggles. We are asked to endure the difficult transition from adolescence to young adulthood with Jessica, which I think is a transition that the typical audience for Jessica Darling has either not undergone yet or is too close to really relate to. I don’t know, this book just came along at the exact right time for me to get it. I was working with high school and college students pretty closely and realizing just how old I was in comparison. Life has yet to kick them around and they’ve yet to have to make the choices and mistakes and to have the responsibilities that turn you into an adult. I don’t know… watching Jessica go through that transition was sort of sad, but also felt appropriate. We all gotta get there eventually, like it or not.
Will this be my favorite of the Jessica Darling series? No. But I liked that McCafferty was willing to tackle this issue of young adulthood because I’m not sure I’ve seen it so honestly examined anywhere else. Also, I think I am willing to put up with just about anything from Jessica Darling because I relate to her so much. She’s probably one of my favorite characters of all time!
Obviously, read this one if you are invested in the series. Just… don’t go into it expecting Jessica-Marcus fireworks and Jessica having the time of her life at college. It is likely to disappoint unless you go into it realizing that this is the growing pains part of the series.