I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year’s! To celebrate making it through all of the Jessica Darling novels, I thought I would recap some of my most and least favorite parts of every book. Let’s start with the worst.
- Sloppy Firsts—I can’t handle it when Jessica embarrasses herself by puking on Paul Parlipiano’s shoes. It’s just so mortifying!
- Second Helpings—But nothing is as embarrassing as Jess mistaking Len Levy for a new student. THEY’VE HAD CLASSES TOGETHER SINCE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! I can’t even. I think it says a lot about Len’s standards that he still wants to date Jess after that.
- Charmed Thirds—I think it’s safe to say that most of this book is my least favorite—Jess wasting time with Marcus on her underwhelming internship at True, cheating on Marcus with the GOPunk, Jess always being so mean to her mom, and her inability to maintain friendships.
- Fourth Comings—This book is the only one where Hope has a significant day-to-day presence in Jessica’s life, but I don’t come away from this book feeling like I have a better understanding of their relationship or why Hope is the best.
- Perfect Fifths—I’m not into Jessica’s dreams. I get that McCafferty wants to give Jess and Marcus time apart so they can both process everything that happens. It even makes sense that Jessica would fall asleep. I just rarely find dreams in fiction to be meaningful or well executed.
- Sloppy Firsts—There are so many good things! Jessica outing all of the Clueless Crew’s secrets in the cafeteria! The Dannon incident! Marcus and Jessica’s late night phone calls!
- Second Helpings—Though I love everything about You Yes You, my favorite part is when Jess and Marcus make out in the bathroom at Gladdie’s wake. It’s so messy and perfect. Of course a very pregnant Bethany would interrupt them. I love that Jessica tries to come up with an improbable escape route, while Marcus coolly walks her out. The description of Marcus looking like he’s been sucking on a pork chop is genius. It’s probably my favorite moment in the whole series.
- Charmed Thirds—Though I’m not a huge Kieran fan, the Winter of Our Discontents is my favorite part. It’s the only time Jess has a community in Charmed Thirds. And there’s some quality Percy and Bridget time!
- Fourth Comings—Obviously my favorite part of this book is Jessica and Bridget’s brunch! It’s so great when Jess actually acknowledges the importance of her friendship with Bridget (as Anna and I have been yelling about all along).
- Perfect Fifths—As cheesy as it is, I love Marcus and Jessica’s karaoke performance.
I can hardly believe it. We’ve reached the end. And we all know what that means: the Marcus Flutie shower scene. As with the end of Second Helpings, I can’t even begin to talk analytically about the last section of Perfect Fifths, so a bulleted list it is!
- They’re both so suspicious of each other!
- Obviously Manda had to get one last pseudo-feminist rant in, ugh.
- Of course Marcus is the one doing the striptease. And while Marcus is busy lasso-dicking, Jess falls asleep. What better way to say I don’t have time for games?
- I’m so glad that “ten inches of New Jersey Whitesnake” makes a come back.
- Greta sounds insufferable, but of course Marcus got cougared. And Older Women, Younger Men: A Cross-Cultural Exploration of Cougars Through the Ages is an excellent title. It’s so creepily maternal that she would wash him.
- I really don’t care about Jessica’s dreams. They feel like filler.
- Amber is the best. I love how Jessica understands girls well enough to know that she shouldn’t mention her connection to the founder of Be You Tea Shoppe without having something cool to back it up, but Marcus just fumbles to relate. What an inadvertent creep.
- I always forget how much time they spend apart, or at least how much time is devoted to it in this section.
- That gift shop clerk is comedy gold.
- It’s so weird to read this novel and be older than Jessica Darling.
- “I’m a person! Not a musical instrument!”
- People always react to Marcus in the most hilarious ways, especially the Fanilows.
- I love imagining Bridget, Percy, and Hope getting the video of Marcus’s wonderfully sincere performance.
- Obviously their transcendent karaoke performance can only be improved upon by listening to the original as you read about it.
- It’s always refreshing to see how un-smooth Marcus can be.
- Now that Jess and Marcus will be in grad school at the same time, they’ll finally be in synch (*NSYNC?)!
Jess and Marcus write
They pass the notebook
Punctuation and spaces say
More than words allow
Triumphs (you yes you), ripping
Open old (cheating) wounds
It always comes back
To sex. Will they? Won’t they? Truth
And dare. All or nothing.
Is harder than it would seem.
Tally Hall agrees.
In the second section of Perfect Fifths, McCafferty gives us Marcus and Jessica’s unfiltered conversation, without the clutter of internal thoughts and second-guesses. After so much time spent apart in Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings, so much uninterrupted dialogue between Jess and Marcus is refreshing. Clever banter during late-night phone calls brings Marcus and Jessica together in Sloppy Firsts, so it’s fitting that this exchange takes up a significant chunk of Perfect Fifths. But this conversation does not rely on Marcus providing a strange fact to prompt discussion, Marcus and Jessica now have a shared past and plenty of catching up to do.
I always find it surprising when Marcus doesn’t remember something about Jess’s past. He managed to remember details from conversations he overheard between Jessica and Hope when he was in a drug-addled stupor, but he can’t remember when Jess went to SPECIAL or their conversation outside Brandi’s office. The tongue kissing cousins conversation seems like such vital moment in the story of Marcus and Jessica, it’s astounding that Marcus has no recollection of it. Jessica claims that she only remembers this interaction because it was the first time she wrote about Marcus in her journal, which makes me wonder if she goes back and rereads her journals, or if the act of writing it down made it more memorable.
- Sometimes I have so much trouble keeping track of who’s talking.
- Why is Jessica so reluctant to tell the story about Sunny?
- I love that when Jessica exclaims “My high school crush-to-end-all-crushes almost had man sex with my ex,” (97), all Marcus can do is protest “almost?” (98).
- Jessica’s clumsy attempt of faking her period is so hard to read! A “menstral tsunami in [her] uterous” (101), seriously? So embarrassing.
Though The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith doesn’t take place entirely in an airport, that’s where Hadley and Oliver meet-cute. Like Jessica, Hadley misses her flight and may not make it to a wedding—her father’s wedding to a woman she’s never met. She and Oliver start chatting in the waiting area and end up sitting next to each other on the flight to London and talking the whole way there. But what happens once they get off the plane?
We’re finally here—Perfect Fifths! It’s been three and a half years since we last saw our girl, and it’s been that long since she and Marcus have seen each other. Jessica is late late late for her flight the Virgin Islands, where she’s supposed to officiate Percy and Bridget’s wedding. Marcus and Natty are just getting back from a volunteer trip to New Orleans. And then—BAM—Jessica and Marcus collide. One of my favorite parts about this novel is that we finally get Marcus’s perspective. And he’s still got it bad for Jess.
Thank goodness for Young Natty and his unlikely friendship with Marcus. Marcus hasn’t really had any actual friends before this point. He was friends with Heath, but they were too high and Heath died too soon. Later, Marcus had Len, but Marcus was never honest with Len, particularly with the Len/Jess matchmaking gambit. Natty may be an unrepentant douchebag (or just 22 and entitled), but he’s the perfect foil to a sadder but wiser Marcus. Natty makes it impossible for Marcus to take himself to seriously.
My recommendation is based entirely on the fact that Len wrote a hit song about Jessica and Marcus. In Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, Audrey breaks up with her boyfriend Evan, because he’s a self involved jerk and she doesn’t look back as he screams, “Audrey, wait!” Then Evan writes a song about the break up, performs it with his band the same night, and the song becomes a huge hit. Being infamous makes Audrey’s life pretty complicated.
It’s decision time. Will Jessica accept Marcus’s proposal, get married, and move to Princeton to be with him? Or will Jess break up with Marcus like she originally intended? I think we all knew, or at least suspected, the answer before reading the last chapter. We’re set up to know that it’s not going to work, because why would Jessica write about her decision making process if she were going to say yes? If that were the case, she could just tell Marcus everything. This level of documentation suggests that Jessica won’t be around to share.
I always forget that Marcus returns the notebooks to Jess, which is probably a healthy decision. It would be so tempting to keep rereading the journals and wallow in the inevitable heartbreak. And as sad as their breakup is, I can’t imagine Jess and Marcus getting married, or even staying together. Fourth Comings shows us a Jess and Marcus whose love isn’t right for now. Marcus shuts down because his dad is sick. Jess resents Marcus for his reticence and dislike of NYC. Marcus only proposes to prevent Jessica from breaking up with him.
When I think of something with a great bittersweet ending, I think of Waitress. Jenna (played by Keri Russell) is a small town waitress, married to a man that she hates, and pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants. But she makes amazing pies, with inspired names, like “Falling in Love” Pie, “Lonely Chicago” Pie, and “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me” Pie. The cast is great and includes Nathan Fillion as her OBGYN, Jeremy Sisto as her awful husband, Adrienne Shelley and Cheryl Hines as her coworkers, and Andy Griffith as the curmudgeonly diner owner.
I’m always so relieved when Jessica and Hope make up–they’re just so out of synch for most of the novel. Hope is always gone because she’s at her studio or working weddings. Jess is with Marcus at Princeton or visiting her parents in Pineville. Hope assumes that Marcus broke up with Jess and keeps secrets. Jessica talks to all sorts of people about her relationship with Marcus, but never seeks advice about her problems with Hope. But all that fades away when both Jessica and Hope make an effort and reach out to each other–Hope following through on Jess’s custom shirt idea (it does sound terribly uncomfortable!) and Jess makes the trek to Hope’s art show. Someone had to say it. Hope helped bring Marcus and Jessica together in Second Helpings, so it seems fitting that she is the one who tells Jess to let Marcus go now.
Things I would text Anna if we weren’t writing this blog:
- The Do-Better Mission Statement is only a half page long, but I can’t get through it. It’s great that Jess gets this miraculous job, but I just don’t care about the logistics.
- Let there be spaces in your togetherness IS such a weird choice for a wedding program.
- One of my college roommates went to Pratt for grad school. I visited her a bunch of times, but one visit really felt like “my weekend at art school.” It involved an absurdist play about Wikileaks and the Russian mafia, among other things, written by a bearded lady. We also went to an open house for the fine arts grad students and there was some crazy stuff—including life-size horse statues covered in gold glitter that weren’t fully assembled yet.