Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult

Jessica Darling quintet by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling helped me survive high school. I was first introduced to the delightfully snarky, sarcastic and spunky teen heroine of Sloppy Firsts when I was a freshman in speech and debate practice after school one autumn afternoon back in 2003. A frenemy of mine was testing out an excerpt from Second Helpings for a speech competition and it was certainly effective: I remember nothing else of the speech and debate season but hearing about Jessica handle the popular girls in a Jersey mini-mall still resonates in my head a decade plus later.

The series consists of five books and originally Megan McCafferty only intended to write the first two and they stand alone very well. I also read Second Helpings before Sloppy Firsts and while slightly confusing, I think it just made me love Marcus even more. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Megan McCafferty my junior year at Pitt and she has now started a Jessica Darling in middle school series which is quite wonderful as well, even though it differs from the originally established timeline.

Sloppy Firsts Synopsis

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?

Sloppy Firsts looks 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.

Series Review

There are, thus far, 8 books about Jessica Darling. Therefore, understandably, my review cannot simply be contained to one book, each reading changes and effects how I view the books so it may be a bit garbled and I’ll try to review book by book without any spoilers, but bear with me!

Sloppy Firsts I have read only once and I did so after reading Second Helpings, the stronger of the pair, writing wise. I was introduced to Jessica after Marcus, after her sister’s wedding, and after she’s met, and discovered the truth about, Hyacinth Anastasia Wallace. All of these things take place in Sloppy Firsts but I didn’t know the full story. At the start of Sloppy Firsts, Jessica is broken, though she does her best to hide it. Her best friend Hope has moved away and while Hope does not actually physically enter the story until the end of Second Helpings, I had already met her. But her influence on Jessica’s life is profound – she is her best friend, her confidant. For a young girl to have such a strong friendship is an incredible thing to behold and when that friendship is no longer as present, depression can quickly ensue. Throughout Sloppy Firsts, Jessica must handle changing feelings, embarking on a friendship she fears Hope would disapprove of, and betrayal of her trust by a new friend. The waters of high school are choppy and Jessica must learn how to cross them safely without her navigator and first mate, Hope.

Second Helpings: My copy of Second Helpings is thoroughly beat up. I love the book, I’ve read it over and over and over again whenever I have been in need of inspiration for my own writing, or when I just want to read about characters that I love dearly. So who came up with it first, JK Rowling or Megan McCafferty? Both have a character known as “he who shall not be named” and Jessica is horribly mad at the one who walks around her high school’s halls. Her feelings have been hurt, irrevocably, she claims, and she swears to never forgive the sinner. Second Helpings is set during Jessica’s senior year and from the very start, it seems as if all hell will be breaking loose. She must deal with national tragedy (9/11), personal tragedy when a beloved family member is lost, and coming to grips with her own moral quandaries and whether or not a friendship is still a friendship if secrets are kept.

Charmed ThirdsFourth Comings: In which Jessica follows her heart and goes to her dream college and lands what she believes to be her dream job. Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings are my two least favorite books and for the longest time I would not read them. Laura had started them and was unimpressed. However, when I met Megan McCafferty, I needed a book for her to sign and so I picked up a copy of the new edition of Charmed Thirds. I will cherish it always as it bears McCafferty’s lovely looping signature and I got to meet her with some of my best college friends. However, Jessica, is just not Jessica in these two books. While Sloppy Firsts & Second Helpings cover roughly a year and a half between them, Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings span almost 8 years and everything feels so rushed.

Perfect Fifths: When I went to hear Megan McCafferty speak, she read aloud from the recently released Perfect Fifths and I was hooked. It was the first time we the readers get Marcus’ point of view and WOOHOO!!! I powered through Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings just to get to the part Megan McCafferty read in the dimly lit auditorium of Frick on my beloved Pitt’s campus. As the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series did years later, the fifth book takes place when the main characters are in their late twenties. And it is pure literary gold. It’s an ending, without being final but also without fully answering all the questions that have so far gone un-answered. But it is perfect, perfect for you, yes, you to enjoy.

Jessica Darling is a relatable girl for those who grew up feeling pressure in high school, fearing being misunderstood, missing their best friend, wondering when their lives would really begin and if their relationships with others were/are meaningful. Jessica, Marcus, Hope, Bridget, Percy, Bethany and even Mr. and Mrs. Darling make up an unforgettable cast of characters. As is the case with all series, there high points and low points, both within the story and the story telling but all-in-all, Jessica is a character to depend on and a role model for those who don’t quite fit in, feel a little lost or who simply want a shoulder to cry on. She’s your girl.

Series Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Sloppy Firsts Edition: Paperback • $13.99 • 9780609807903 • 304 pages • published August 2001 by Broadway Books • average Goodreads rating 3.94 out of 5 • series finished April 2010

Megan McCafferty’s Website

Sloppy Firsts on Goodreads

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Jessica Darling

Graphic Novel, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Back in 2015, one of my coworkers went to a book conference and brought me back a signed copy of Honor Girl. At first, I didn’t really realized why she picked this particular book for me, until I started reading it. I love it.

Synopsis

Maggie is fifteen and has spent basically every summer of her life at the one-hundred-year old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into the Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful sort of nothing.

Until one confounding moment. After a split second of innocent physical contact during a lice inspection, Maggie falls into gut-twisting love with Erin, an older, wiser, and, most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s spontaneous expertise at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing that keeps her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin might feel the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to endure, let alone understand.

Review

For the sake of honesty, I confess that I believed some stupid things before I started reading Honor Girl.

I started reading Honor Girl under the assumption that my experience reading it would help me understand what it felt like for some of my friends when they first realized they were lesbians or bisexual. But as I fell deeper and deeper into Maggie’s story, I realized that there is no difference between falling in love as a straight person and falling in love as a gay person. Love is love, regardless of who it is with and Maggie’s love story is beautiful and innocent and so reminiscent of many other first love stories, requited or unrequited, that absolutely anyone who has felt their heart swell to bursting with a crush can relate.

Later, after I had finished Honor Girl and come to this great conclusion, I asked Hadley why it was that she had picked it out for me, and while I don’t remember the answer, I do remember her surprise at the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did and that I recommend it frequently to teenagers who come into the store looking for a compelling story that they can relate to; one of first love, heartache, and summer camp.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9780763687557 • 272 pages • originally published September 2015, this edition published May 2017 by Candlewick Press • average Goodreads rating 3.82 out of 5 • read in January 2016

Maggie Thrash’s Website

Honor Girl on Goodreads

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Honor Girl

Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grades, Mythology

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Just after I finished listening to the audiobook of The Lightning Thief, a good 8 years after my friend Iram told me I just had to read it, I found out it is part of this upcoming school year’s Reading Olympics lists! I now can recommend officially 1 out of 45 titles for the elementary schoolers!

Synopsis

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Review

The Lightning Thief has been a bestselling book at the bookstore since I started working there in the summer of 2015 and it has been a perpetual favorite with 6th graders since I student taught 6th grade in 2013, and I’m certain this was the case even before I was aware of it. Since it was first published in the mid-2000’s, Rick Riordan has started 4 other series, finished 2 of them, and has had three of the five series adapted into graphic novels. Clearly, there’s widespread appeal, to the point where I was really starting to feel like I was missing out on something.

When I started writing my novel, which I lovingly call my Viking Story, it was around the same time Riordan announced his second newest trilogy, Magnus Chase, a series based on Norse Mythology and the first with a decided young adult slant. I was convinced it would be my first of his books, but one day, when browsing the audiobook section at the library, I decided to pick up The Lightning Thief. Usually I’m wary when the entirety of the 12 year old population loves something (hello One Direction…), but thankfully, I was not disappointed!

Percy is a “half-blood,” his father is a god of Olympus proportions, but he doesn’t know which one. Being such, puts him in a special position when it comes to quests, adventures, and fulfilling a heroic destiny. Basically, he’s fated to be a tragic Greek hero, not exactly the future most 12 year olds dream of. But he has the help of friends and allies, and the adventure is not one to be missed!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $7.99 • 9780786838653 • 377 pages • originally published June 2005, this edition published March 2006 by Hyperion Kids • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in April 2017

Rick Riordan’s Website

The Lightning Thief on Goodreads

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Lightning Thief