Every cool girl I know loves Jessica Darling.
Okay, so that might be an exaggeration, but it’s not that far from the truth. Jessica, the heroine of Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and the four books that follow, is so perfectly flawed that most of us can’t help but love her. She’s funny, sardonic, smart, insecure and angsty. She’s hilarious and witty, but she can also be whiny and mopey. She’s not the girl you wanted to be in high school; she’s the girl you were.
Ever since Jessica’s best friend, Hope, moved to Tennessee, she’s been miserable. Hope was her best friend and the one person who actually understood her. Now Jessica’s stuck hanging around with her “friends” Manda, Sara and Bridget, also known as the Clueless Crew. Jessica also has to deal with her dad, who seems to only care about her performance at the latest track meet, and her mom, who apparently wishes Jessica was just a carbon copy of her vapid, wedding-obsessed brat of a big sister, Bethany. Between all of this, lusting after sexy senior Paul Parlipiano, being the class brainiac and wondering if she’s going to be a virgin her entire life, Jessica’s life starts to seem pretty sad. Until Marcus Flutie shows up.
Marcus Flutie. Where to even begin? Marcus Flutie’s bad behavior and mysterious reputation are irresistible to Jessica, who soon finds herself thinking about Marcus all the time. He gives Jessica’s boring and unhappy life a much needed jolt of Flutiefied electricity. Marcus is a poet, a secret genius, a former druggie and an all-around interesting guy who may or may not have had sex with upwards of 36 girls. Is he bad news or is he the only guy at Pineville who’s actually a match for Jessica?
Jessica’s feeling for Marcus (and his total swoonability) are completely believable. In high school, a friend of mine had the most insane crush on this guy who was in a band, didn’t get good grades, smoked and was really into metal music, even though I (I mean, my friend) was a nerdy honor student who’d never so much as touched a cigarette and was really into Ben Folds Five. The saying “opposites attract” isn’t just true for Paula Abdul and rapping cartoon cats; it applies to high school students as well. Smart, nerdy girls sometimes (let’s be honest: often) go for that sensitive rebel type, like Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You or Jess Mariano in Gilmore Girls. There’s something about a leather jacket and a book of poetry (or, in Marcus Flutie’s case, a Backstreet Boys t-shirt and a poem written on an origami mouth) that’s like kryptonite to girls who get straight A’s.
But Marcus Flutie isn’t the only reason that everyone loves Sloppy Firsts so much. Jessica Darling herself takes most of the credit for that. Like a lot of girls, I think Jessica and I are kindred spirits, although there are some crucial differences. I actually liked my high school friends, for example, and I was never even 1/10th as athletic as Jessica is (somewhere, my elementary school gym teacher is laughing at me right now). But it isn’t the details that endear Jessica to us; it’s the universal high school feelings. Most of us have felt like no one really gets us, or like we can’t talk to anyone or like our family just doesn’t understand who we are. Jessica isn’t a popular girl or a stock-character nerd; she’s a regular girl who worries about boys and sex and friends and school. Most of all, she worries about herself, and wonders why she doesn’t like the dumb jocks or have fun at the stupid parties like everyone else does. Jessica Darling is just herself, in all her awkward, uncomfortable glory, and that’s why we like her so much.
-Barry Manilow is practically a recurring character in the Jessica Darling series, and let me tell you, I don’t hate it. Listen, you guys, maybe I love Barry Manilow. Maybe I own Ultimate Manilow and I listen to it sometimes when I’m having a bad day. Maybe I’ve said I want to use Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You as my first dance at my hypothetical wedding because, even though it’s kind of a break up song, I just find it very romantic. Maybe I actually really love Barry Manilow, okay? Don’t judge me!
-Once you read Sloppy Firsts, you’ll definitely want to read the other four books. Jessica dates some weird dudes, and things get kind of dark for awhile but there’s more Marcus Flutie so don’t worry, everyone! Also, Megan McCafferty never allows the plot lines to grow boring or the characters to get stale; everyone changes in some pretty drastic ways.
-Megan McCafferty recently announced that there are new Jessica Darling books on the way. Hallelujah!
-Here’s a Sloppy Firsts playlist Megan McCafferty put together. It’s pretty much perfect…The Sundays? My favorite Dolly Parton song? Only You by Yaz, also known as the song that plays during very romantic and dramatic scenes in Can’t Hardly Wait and The Office? This basically feels like a playlist I put together for myself (also, if these are your favorite songs too, let’s be best friends, please).
Have you read Sloppy Firsts and the rest of the Jessica Darling series? Are you looking forward to the new Jessica Darling books? Are you totally in love with Marcus Flutie? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to cover in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
Image via Goodreads