Megan McCafferty became one of my favorite authors the instant I finished her first novel, Sloppy Firsts. The Jessica Darling Series is so very close to my heart and despite a few mixed reviews for this series after the first two books, I decided to continue - and I'm so glad I did. You can see my reviews for Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings HERE, but my review is spoiler-free for the first two novels in this series. At least, for the most part.
Title: Charmed Thirds (Jessica Darling, #3)
Author: Megan McCafferty
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Whether it be after Sloppy Firsts when that heart-breaking cliffhanger just makes you want to rip your hair out.
Or after Second Helpings after Jessica and Marcus finally, finally, finally get together.
Or after Charmed Thirds when you are simply unable to digest the sheer magnitude, truth, and scope of one book, four years, and so many journeys.
Quite honestly, I picked up Charmed Thirds more skeptic than excited. After two such poignant Jessica Darling books, I wasn't quite sure if the college years would live up to be just as powerful as the high school years had proven to be, especially as I have yet to experience college for myself. With Jessica Darling, so much of the punch is in the nostalgia, in the experiences long forgotten but still so pivotal and important to growth. Surprisingly, though, Jessica's thoughts in Charmed Thirds continue to mirror my own, even where her experiences are so different from mine. It seems almost strange now that I ever imagined that Jessica and I would be unable to relate to one another just because she went off to college while I'm still slaving my way through high school. Yet, Megan McCafferty continues to prove what I always suspected: Jessica Darling is timeless.
Of all the Jessica Darling books, Charmed Thirds is easily the most messy of the lot. Not only is its format slightly different in that Jessica journals only rarely, skipping months altogether, but also in that this novel expanses an entire four years of Jessica's own life. In parts, it almost feels a little jarring to see Jessica remain the same from one month to a month five months down the road and yet, her growth is forever. Where the previous two Jessica Darling books chronicled every single slight detail about high school, from the people to the teachers to the homework assignments, Charmed Thirds has little to do in way of teachers and students. Instead, it is a deeper, more introspective look at Jessica's own college experience - her struggles to find a job, her stress at discovering her major isn't what she thought it would be, her ever-changing relationship with the elusive Marcus Flutie, and most of all, the crazy experiences she undertakes in trying to find herself.
And while I may not agree with everything Jessica chose to do (and know for a fact that I will NOT be making many of the mistakes she made), these years are a true testament to just how difficult it is to find who you are and what you want from life. Jessica remains to be as witty and intelligent as ever, her insights both monumental and increasingly silly when it comes to the opposite sex. And, best of all, one of my favorite themes is still present in this series - that of impact. Just the fact that Marcus and Hope remain so important to Jessica while simultaneously being the people most apart from her continues to be such a realistic theme in this series. While Jessica and Marcus' relationship has its ups-and-downs, so does the one between Jessica and Hope. And yet, while Jessica is out feeling guilty, passionate, regretful, and everything-but-happy, the other people in Jessica's life provide us with immense insight into the college experiences of other people. Whether it be Bridget, whose relationship is a model of perfection, or Hope, who manages to achieve so much from her college years, or even Marcus, who finally finds who he is after years of misbehavior, not everyone's experience is like Jessica's. And yet, hers is by far the most realistic, messy, and poignant by the end.
Perhaps best of all, though, is the mere fact that Jessica comes to learn more about her parents, her sister, her niece, her boyfriend, her school friends... Where before they faded into the background of Jessica's story as her journal entries were filled with increasingly anxious remarks about Marcus or high school or college, now her journals become an insight into the people who have made her, molded her, and continue to do so. What I love best about Jessica is that she thinks she has everything figured out, but she truly doesn't. By the end of Second Helpings, Jessica seems to be a self-confident individual, ready to tackle on everything the world has to offer, but she could not be further from the truth. With college comes an exposure to entirely different people and the shocking truth that contrary to popular belief, Jessica does not know what she's doing with her life. And that is okay. Easily the best part about these novels is the plain truth that it is perfectly normal to not know where you want to go in life. And while we all know this, Jessica included, coming to really know it is an entirely different journey altogether.
Charmed Thirds is a collection of stories. While it is predominantly Jessica's story herself, it encompasses so much more, tackling on the world in entirely new and insightful ways. Although my review itself is conspicuously romance-free, Jessica's love story continues to be as messy and delightful as it always was, not to mention shockingly realistic. (You will cry. You will scream. You will often find yourself telling Jessica, "NO! NO! NO!" to no avail. And yet, you will love it. Just trust me on this one, okay?). All in all, Charmed Thirds has shaped up to be the most unforgettable of all the books in this series so far and I cannot wait to see where the adult years continue to take Jessica.