Series Overview: Jessica Darling Series by Megan McCafferty

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

Average Rating: 3 cupcakes

What I Liked:

  • Jessica’s voice. She’s snarky, crazy, honest, and over thinks everything. As someone who grew up in a small town, I can say with a fair degree of accuracy that Jessica’s voice is incredibly authentic and perfectly captures what it’s like to be a high school student.
  • Instead of perpetuating the virgin/whore dichotomy, sex was discussed in a frank and open way.
  • Familial relationships were given as much treatment and depth as romantic relationships and friendships.
  • There was visible character growth throughout the entire series, even if some of it resulted from actions that I didn’t approve of.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • In Fourth Comings and Perfect Fifths, changes in the narration style dampened Jessica’s voice, making her less engaging and harder to connect with.
  • After a while, a lot of the narration just seemed to involve repetition of stories and history from previous installments.
  • The ending felt rather contrived and wasn’t as satisfying as I had expected.

Overall Thoughts:
Despite its strong start, the series seemed to go downhill after Jessica graduated from high school. If you do intend to read this series, I definitely recommend stopping after Second Helpings to avoid immense disappointment.

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Book Review: Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty

Old flames are reignited in the fifth and final book in the New York Times bestselling Jessica Darling series.

Captivated readers have followed Jessica through every step and misstep: from her life as a tormented, tart-tongued teenager to her years as a college grad stumbling toward adulthood. Now a young professional in her mid-twenties, Jess is off to a Caribbean wedding. As she rushes to her gate at the airport, she literally runs into her former boyfriend, Marcus Flutie. It’s the first time she’s seen him since she reluctantly turned down his marriage proposal three years earlier–and emotions run high.

Marcus and Jessica have both changed dramatically, yet their connection feels as familiar as ever. Is their reunion just a fluke or has fate orchestrated this collision of their lives once again?

Told partly from Marcus’s point of view, Perfect Fifths finally lets readers inside the mind of the one person who’s both troubled and titillated Jessica Darling for years. Expect nothing less than the satisfying conclusion fans have been waiting for, one perfect in its imperfection…

My Rating: 2 cupcakes

In a departure from the style of the previous books, Perfect Fifths is not told in the format of one of Jessica’s journals; instead, readers are given a glimpse into both Marcus and Jessica’s heads through an omniscient narrator. This change in narration took away the air of mystery that made Marcus such an intriguing character and replaced it with an immature, less enlightened individual than I had envisioned. It also distanced me from Jessica’s character, which is a shame given how much I love her snarky, authentic thoughts.

In my review for Fourth Comings, I mentioned how nice it was to see that Marcus and Jessica were talking, even if her journal served as the basis for that communication. The conversations that took place in Perfect Fifths, while pretentious at times, provided evidence of their connection that had been missing from previous installments. It also showed just how much Marcus and Jessica had grown and matured – and, at the same time, just how similar they were to their high school counterparts.

Jessica’s realization about her feelings for Marcus seemed very contrived. From the Barry Manilow duet to the strange dreams, it just didn’t seem real. Worse than that, though, the introduction of Sunny Dae served as a plot device to get Marcus and Jessica back together, as opposed to the fleshed-out, sympathetic character that she was intended to be.

Overall, I was fairly disappointed with Perfect Fifths. If I’m ever going to reread this series, I think I’ll just stick with books one and two.

Book Review: Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty

At first it seems that she’s living the elusive New York City dream. She’s subletting an apartment with her best friend, Hope, working for a magazine that actually utilizes her psychology degree, and still deeply in love with Marcus Flutie, the charismatic addict-turned-Buddhist who first captivated her at sixteen.

Of course, reality is more complicated than dreamy clichés. She and Hope share bunk beds in the “Cupcake”—the girlie pastel bedroom normally occupied by twelve-year-old twins. Their Brooklyn neighborhood is better suited to “breeders,” and she and Hope split the rent with their promiscuous high school pal, Manda, and her “genderqueer boifriend.” Freelancing for an obscure journal can’t put a dent in Jessica’s student loans, so she’s eking out a living by babysitting her young niece and lamenting that she, unlike most of her friends, can’t postpone adulthood by going back to school.

Yet it’s the ever-changing relationship with Marcus that leaves her most unsettled. At the ripe age of twenty-three, he’s just starting his freshman year at Princeton University. Is she ready to give up her imperfect yet invigorating post-college life just because her on-again/off-again soul mate asks her to… marry him?

Jessica has one week to respond to Marcus’s perplexing marriage proposal. During this time, she gains surprising wisdom from unexpected sources, including a popular talk show shrink, a drag queen named Royalle G. Biv, and yes, even her parents. But the most shocking confession concerns two people she thought had nothing to hide: Hope and Marcus.

Will this knowledge inspire Jessica to give up a world of late-night literary soirees, art openings, and downtown drunken karaoke to move back to New Jersey and be with the one man who’s gripped her heart for years? Jessica ponders this and other life choices with her signature snark and hyper-intense insight, making it the most tumultuous and memorable week of her twenty-something life.

My Rating:  3 cupcakes

I’ve been getting more and more disappointed with this series, which is rather unfortunate given my immense love for Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. Part of it is due to the fact that the college years just don’t seem as poignant as the high school ones – whether it’s due to the repeated stories, or the fact that I can’t quite relate to Jessica Darling’s issues, I just didn’t enjoy Fourth Comings as much as I had hoped I would.

Fourth Comings is a series of two journals written to Marcus after he abruptly proposes, and takes place over the course of one week. While reading it, though, it certainly felt a lot longer than one week – everything was drawn out, and not a lot really happened. Jessica’s constant flip-flopping between saying yes and saying no to Marcus got to be a bit much after a while, though I did like that she took the time to contemplate the decision; marriage isn’t something to be taken lightly, and as someone who doesn’t believe in such an institution, it only makes sense that Jessica would need to consider all of the potential outcomes of her answer.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about Jessica’s relationship with Marcus. In Sloppy Firsts, I was rooting for them to get together. In Second Helpings, I was so excited when it finally happened. Charmed Thirds made me realize just how different their relationship has become: in the first two books, Jessica’s journals involved so many retellings of conversations with Marcus, but now they barely speak to one another. One of the high points of Fourth Comings was knowing that Jessica was writing to Marcus – and although it meant that a more censored side of her was shown, it was nice to see some sort of communication.

Jessica’s character continues to mature in this book. She comes to recognize her own insecurities, her selfishness, and the fact that her relationship with Marcus isn’t as perfect as she may have lead readers to think. She continues to build and strengthen her relationships with her parents, her sister, and her friends, and learns that the life of a college graduate is a lot more difficult than one would imagine.

The illustrious Hope Weaver finally makes an appearance in Fourth Comings. It was really nice to see her interactions with Jessica, since readers have only “met” her through letters in previous installments. McCafferty perfectly captures the best friend dynamic: while there is still a strong bond between them, time and distance have shown that there is so much that they still don’t know about one another.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy Fourth Comings as much as the first two Jessica Darling books. Despite that, I definitely intend to read Perfect Fifths, if only to see just how much more Jessica grows.

Book Review: Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling’s in college!

Things are looking up for Jessica Darling. She has finally left her New Jersey hometown/hellhole for Columbia University in New York City; she’s more into her boyfriend, Marcus Flutie, than ever (so what if he’s at a Buddhist college in California?); and she’s making new friends who just might qualify as stand-ins for her beloved best friend, Hope.

But Jessica soon realizes that her bliss might not last. She lands an internship at a snarky Brooklyn-based magazine, but will she fit in with the uberhip staff (and will she even want to)? As she and Marcus hit the rocks, will she end up falling for her GOPunk, neoconservative RA . . . or the hot (and married!) Spanish grad student she’s assisting on a summer project . . . or the oh-so-sensitive emo boy down the hall? Will she even make it through college now that her parents have cut her off financially? And what do the cryptic one-word postcards from Marcus really mean?

With hilarious insight, the hyperobservant Jessica Darling struggles through her college years–and the summers in between–while maintaining her usual mix of wit, cynicism, and candor.

My Review: 3 cupcakes

Unlike Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds took place over the span of four years in Jessica’s life. As a result, a lot of events in Jessica’s life were glossed over, and the emotional impacts of her actions weren’t quite as prevalent as in the first two installments.

While Jessica’s voice was just as engaging as before, I was rather unimpressed with her character. She made a lot of very poor decisions, which I’m still not sure she’s learned from. A large component of college life is trying to discover who you are and what you desire from life, but it just felt like Jessica was going about it in all the wrong ways.

As Jessica’s character became more and more frustrating, Marcus’ character became almost saint-like. He underwent a tremendous amount of growth and self-discovery in his limited amount of page time, and I can’t wait to see where this reformed bad boy is going to go next.

Jessica’s parents and sister played important roles in Charmed Thirds. An important part of growing up is realizing that your parents aren’t perfect and that they’re human, which is something that Jessica discovers as she learned to understand and sympathize with them.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy Charmed Thirds as much as I enjoyed the rest of the previous Jessica Darling books. However, I’m not ready to give up on the series quite yet, so hopefully it picks up again in the next book!

Book Review: Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

“Knowing that I’ve just done something that will take decades off my parents’ lives with worry, you’ll excuse me for not getting into the fa-la-la-la-la Yuletide spirit this year… The only difference between Christmas 2001 and Christmas 2000 is that I don’t have a visit from Hope to look forward to. And Bethany has already packed on some major fetal flab. Oh, and now Gladdie doesn’t need to ask a bizillion questions about my boyfriend, because she’s already gotten the dirt from you know who.”

Jessica Darling is up in arms again in this much-anticipated, hilarious sequel to Sloppy Firsts. This time, the hyperobservant, angst-ridden teenager is going through the social and emotional ordeal of her senior year at Pineville High. Not only does the mysterious and oh-so-compelling Marcus Flutie continue to distract Jessica, but her best friend, Hope, still lives in another state, and she can’t seem to escape the clutches of the Clueless Crew, her annoying so-called friends. To top it off, Jessica’s parents won’t get off her butt about choosing a college, and her sister Bethany’s pregnancy is causing a big stir in the Darling household.

My Rating:  4 cupcakes

Second Helpings picks up in Jessica’s senior year, where dating, college applications, and he-who-must-not-be-named are just a few of her problems. Jessica’s narration is equal parts crazy, snarky, thought-provoking, engaging, and every bit as wonderful as it was in Sloppy Firsts. I really enjoyed watching Jessica grow and develop over the course of the book, as she made mistakes and learned a lot about herself and her desires.

My trepidations about Marcus Flutie’s character were quickly dispelled throughout this read – to the point where I can easily see why practically everyone wants him as a book boyfriend. Mysterious, unpredictable, and sweet, Marcus Flutie managed to capture my heart, and his chemistry with Jessica led me to ship them so, so strongly. I sincerely hope that he’ll have his own narration at some point, or be more present in future installments, at the very least.

Relationships are, as always, a prominent portion of this book, and there was even a very well-done love triangle. McCafferty perfectly captures the nature of teenage relationships (or relationships in general): it’s often hard to know the nature of your own feelings for someone, and relationships themselves are confusing and complicated.

Overall, Second Helpings was every bit as enjoyable and entertaining as its predecessor. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

Book Review: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

“My parents suck ass. Banning me from the phone and restricting my computer privileges are the most tyrannical parental gestures I can think of. Don’t they realize that Hope’s the only one who keeps me sane? . . . I don’t see how things could get any worse.”

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling fiction debut by first-time novelist Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment–from the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “Dreg” who works his way into her heart. Like a John Hughes for the twenty-first century, Megan McCafferty taps into the inherent humor and drama of the teen experience. This poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.

My Rating:  4 cupcakes

Sloppy Firsts is written in a way that is very similar to the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart – a series that I thoroughly enjoyed. Through Jessica Darling’s journal entries and letters to her best friend, Hope, readers get to experience the mess that is high school right alongside her. As a result, there isn’t a lot of dialogue; just Jessica’s introspective thoughts, feelings, and summations of what went on in her day. While I usually prefer books with a lot of dialogue, Jessica’s diary reminded me so much of my own, and this authenticity certainly contributed to my enjoyment of the story.

Jessica Darling, our narrator, is someone I immediately identified with. She’s intelligent, engaging, cynical, and sometimes crazy, which made for a hilarious and thought-provoking read. Her voice perfectly captures what it’s like to be a teenager in high school, especially one from a small town, and I really enjoyed watching her slowly reevaluate her opinions and preconceived notions about her classmates and her town throughout the course of the book.

Before reading Sloppy Firsts all I knew about the story was that Marcus Flutie was practically everyone’s book boyfriend. So imagine my surprise when he was introduced as a “dreg” and a “Krispy Kreme” – or a drug user with red dreads who was certainly not my type. Thankfully, Marcus evolved as a character, and managed to make me appreciate his unpredictability and intelligence, even if I’m still not quite sold on him.

The secondary characters in Sloppy Firsts are just as interesting as Jessica and Marcus, and I really enjoyed watching the “Clueless Crew” and other stereotypical, high school archetypes grow into something other than the labels they were given. High school relationships aren’t the only facet that was explored, however; Jessica’s parents are present, flaws and all, and equal time is devoted to exploring their relationship.

And can I just say how well McCafferty treated the topic of sexual relationships in high school? Instead of perpetuating the virgin/whore dichotomy that is seen way too much in YA fiction, sex was discussed in such a frank and open way – and given that this came out in 2000, that’s pretty impressive.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sloppy Firsts. Although I just started this series, I have a feeling that it’s going to be one of my new favourites.

Saturday Showcase (March 22)

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Saturday Showcase is a weekly event hosted here at The In-Between Place which features books that you wish more people had read (or, at least, heard about).

This week’s featured book is Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty.

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling fiction debut by first-time novelist Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment–from the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “Dreg” who works his way into her heart. Like a John Hughes for the twenty-first century, Megan McCafferty taps into the inherent humor and drama of the teen experience. This poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.

Even though I’ve only read the first two books in this series, I can already say that it’s going to be a favourite of mine. Jessica Darling’s voice is so compelling and hilarious, and sometimes just crazy – a combination that kept me reading until the wee hours of the morning. And there’s a surprisingly loveable bad boy, which is definitely a plus.

What are some of your favourite underrated books? Leave a list in the comments below.
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