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.

Second Helpings- Megan McCafferty

Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

Dear Jessica Darling,

It was really nice to see you loosen up a bit your senior year.  Quitting all your extracurriculars because you don’t like them and continuing to write and run on your own terms?  Calling out Paul Parlipiano for his proto-hipster hypocrisy?  Finally discovering you have the Talent for Writing?  You go girl!  And you got yourself a boyfriend!  Lev was, well, let’s just say I’m glad that ended.  I love nerds, but you can do better.

Even when you weren’t using your very best judgment, I was still on your side.  I don’t generally approve of teenagers experimenting with drugs or lying to their parents about where they are going to college.  However, I know you’re intelligent enough to learn from your mistakes (maybe).  If I can continue to be a little corny, I just want to say that I was pretty happy to see you opening yourself up to friendships with people other than Hope.  Seeing you connect with Bridget, Pepe, and your father made me smile.

You and Marcus finally had your big moment (!!!) and, girl, I am SO happy for you!  But Jess, don’t you think you could have forgiven him a little earlier?  Or maybe have talked to him more this past year?  I really missed your recounting of the conversations you’d have with him.  Marcus is awesome and I heard more about him from Gladdie than from you!

Oh, and Jess, you used to be super-charming in that early 2000s way, but now you have a sudden obsession with the 80s.  And I know that the 80s were retro-cool back in 2003 (believe me, I was there), but part of why I want to be your BFF is that you get what being a teen in the 00s was like.  You used to joke about Dawson’s Creek.  Now I question if your Jake Ryan obsession makes you sound about 15 years older than you actually are.

Anyways, I look forward to hearing how college goes for you.  (Really, though, Columbia?  I mean, that just rubs my state-university-educated self the wrong way.)  And please, please, please make things work with Marcus.  That boy is good for you.  Also, can I add you to my AIM buddylist?  I am the queen of the witty away status.

Epistolarily yours,

P.S. And if you are seeking a more typical review, how about checking out what Kyle @ A Reader’s Pensieve has to say?

Sloppy Firsts- Megan McCafferty

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

Sloppy Firsts is the first of the Jessica Darling series.  In it, we meet Jessica Darling, a high school sophomore in Pineville, New Jersey.  Jessica’s best friend, Hope, has just moved halfway across to the country and Jessica is stuck feigning a friendship with the Clueless Crew, her ditzy, boy-crazy, gossipy, and somewhat skanky friends.  Jessica also begins a friendship with and develops more-than-friendly feelings for Marcus Flutie, stoner-turned-honors-student.

Jessica Darling might be my new favorite teenage book character.  She is smart, snarky, highly analytical and observant (of both herself and others), and she deals with a lot of tough stuff in a realistically teenage manner.  Jessica doesn’t feel like she lives up to her parents expectations for her and feels a lot of pressure to be someone she isn’t from them.  She loses a best friend and believes that there is no one left at Pineville High School who could ever fill that void.  She gets depressed and anxious, though not in a clinically diagnosed or treated way.  She is obsessed with the high school social order at the same time that she claims to hate all those who buy into it.  And the whole time, she is funny and self-deprecating, but sort of confident and above-it-all.

And everyone who has ever praised this series also is in love with Marcus Flutie.  He is the bad boy turned good boy.  He’s quirky and big-hearted in a believable way.  Marcus likes working with the old fogues (is that pronounced fogies because I’ve never in my life seen it spelled that way, except in this book) at the local retirement/nursing home.  He is loyal and keeps the secret he shares with Jessica to himself.  I found myself loving him because of his sense of humor.  In his stoner days, he wears Backstreet Boys and Dawson’s Creek t-shirts to school to be ironically funny.  It is funny.  We get to see a lot of Marcus in this book and although Jessica is crazy about him, she is always finding ways to deny herself the relationship she wants and deserves with him.  It is ultimately FRUSTRATING, but then again so is adolescent romance.

One thing I loved about this book is that Jessica and I are roughly the same age… I think she would be in class of 2002, I was class of 2003.  Needless to say, I got all the cultural references and a lot of the generational sentiments felt familiar and relatable.  For example, Jessica writes actual letters to Hope, at the same time that they exchange regular emails and IMs.  While that sounds EXACTLY like how I maintained long-distance relationships when I moved during high school, I cannot imagine teens these days exchanging letters or IMs.  It’d all be texts and facebook!  Some of this might feel old-fashioned to today’s teens, but I imagine that Jessica’s humor and the relationship between Jessica and Marcus is pretty universally appealing.  There is definitely an added sentiment to this book for those of us who were teens in the early 2000s.

I highly recommend this book to those of you who like smart, funny, self-deprecating heroines who have romantic interests who are smart, funny, and two-dimensional.  It is a quick, fun read that will remind you how lucky you are to no longer be in high school, while at the same time giving you a nice hit of nostalgia.

Other Reviews:
Kyle @ A Reader’s Pensieve

Jamie @ The Perpetual Page Turner

I believe this turned up on my radar due to the mention of Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie on Top Ten Tuesday lists, but I didn’t write it down, so all of you who have been talking about these two get credit for the recommendation– thanks!!