Perfect Fifths- Megan McCafferty

I finally finished the Jessica Darling series!  How about I sum up the last book and then give some thoughts on the series as a whole?

In Perfect Fifths, Jessica literally runs into Marcus Flutie in the airport.  The two have been broken up for several years and end up spending the day (and night) catching up with one another.  They predictably end up falling for one another all over again (if they ever fell out of love with one another, that is) and Ms. Jessica gets her happy ending!

The plot of this book was pretty much a romantic comedy movie and that is all fine and well.  I was happy to see Jessica and Marcus growing up and communicating well.  And of course, happy endings=nice.

What drove me crazy about this book was the writing style.  McCafferty departs from the journal style she had used in the previous four books and gets all over the place here.  We’re in Jessica’s head for a bit, then Marcus’s (all in third person).  Then we get a whole bunch of dialogue without dialogue markers.  If you are anything like me, in this part you have no idea who is saying what most of the time and have to count back to the last statement where it is obvious who is talking to figure out who is saying what 10 lines on.  Then there are passed notes in haiku form.  Which is just obnoxious and pretentious (I guess that is sort of Jessica Darling though).  Then things settle back down in the end (third person again, if I remember correctly) and I was able to finally, finally enjoy the Jessica-Marcus thing happening.

I suppose a highlight for some readers might be that you get a peak into Marcus’s thoughts in this book.  He has always been pretty enigmatic, so I guess in a way it was like, thank you Marcus for actually explaining what you are thinking, you sphinxy-minx, you.  At the same time, though, I wasn’t all that in love with Marcus anymore.  Sorry, Marcus Flutie, but you just seem to be overly analytical like Jessica and ugh, I think I prefer men who aren’t Jessica Darling.

This book gets a solid meh from me.  I read it quickly and got into the ending.  I liked the updates on everybody’s lives.  (Who’d have thunk that Sarah and Scotty would be on baby number three at this point?)  But the haiku and unmarked dialogue and the Marcus Flutie let-down left this one right in the middle for me.  Read it to finish out the series and get all your loose ends tied up, but other than that?  Meh.

As for the Jessica Darling series as a whole, I’m a bit disappointed.  The books go downhill as the series progresses.  There is much to enjoy about the books, as the writing is good and Jessica is usually pretty relatable.  But the Jessica that I loved in the first book doesn’t age gracefully.  And the more I think about Jessica, the more her pretentiousness annoys me.  She likes to namedrop philosophers and is dead-set on Columbia because dear God, state university isn’t good enough for a smart kid like her.  I would recommend this series, but maybe just the first two books.  This is not a series that had me begging for more (after book one that is), but I enjoyed the characters enough to want to find out what happened to them… eventually.

Have you finished the Jessica Darling series?  Would you recommend it?

I read/reviewed this book in conjunction with the Series Catch-Up 2012.

Charmed Thirds- Megan McCafferty

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.