Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jessica Darling: The College Years

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

When you finish a Jessica Darling novel, there is only one thing to say: "OMIGAWD" (Or, you know, quote oh my gawd! unquote).

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. 


  1. I love the later Jessica books, they really capture that post-high school time so brilliantly. You've really nailed one of the things that I appreciate about Charmed Thirds, that it is really a set of stories, and looking back on it, that's the way college felt to me. While it's not at all glamorous, I think it's one of the best depictions of college life I've read.

  2. I haven't seen this book before but I'd probably never read them as they look too chick-lit for me. I guess I was wrong. Sounds really interesting. Maybe I'll give them a try :)

  3. I can't read this until I start the series this summer. I'm trying to avoid looking too far ahead. BUT I saw your rating and that means a lot! I know the later ones have more mixed reviews, so really glad you're still enjoying the characters and their story. I'm personally terrified by all the drama. When characters' lives are drawn out, sometimes drama is added just to keep the story interesting. But hope this author can succeed in making Jessica endearing despite her mistakes. Sort of like a Sophie Kinsella heroine (in the fact that they drive be bananas, but I still like them overall - mostly).

  4. Your review made me go "Oh my gawd". I feel like I should just skip the first two books and read this one just because it seems like I could relate to Jessica minus her bf part lol.

    I think University is where you really do grow up and it sounds like Jessica has a lot of self-searching going on, which is great. Lovely Review Keertana! Lol you're going to put a dent in my bank account soon!!

  5. I think I need to read this series Keertana! It's clearly emotionally intense if there's yelling and hair-pulling involved while reading, and I just happen to love stories like that:) Can't wait to meet Jessica and get involved in her messy and realistic life!

  6. I still don't know where I want to go in life, but, somehow, I seem to be moving towards something anyway. I love the sound of this series! I haven't read anything by this author before, or even heard of her before, but I definitely want to pick up the first book of this series soon. I have a feeling I will like it. Lovely review as always, Keertana!

  7. Ahhhh I'm so happy you loved this! My library copy is waiting for me once I finish The Monstrumologist series, and it is such a relief to hear that this book is still just as poignant and amazing as the first two! I admit I'm a little nervous about the pacing, considering this is FOUR years! But now I'm wondering why McCafferty chose to fit all the college years into one book instead of breaking them up into two books. I'm sure there was a reason behind it.

    As a recent college graduate, this book will probably have me feeling REALLY nostalgic! Though I can understand Jessica Darling making some questionable decisions at college since, like you said, she is still discovering who she is and what she wants in life. I think I have an idea of what decisions she might have made, and that makes me so nervous and also excited to read this. Weird, I know.

    Well, that was a long response. :D Great review, Keertana! I'm glad that we're both discovering this series together because it's cool to see how our reactions match up!

  8. I REALLY need to read this series. I read the first (and second, I think?) books awhile back but it's been so long that I forgot it all. I can't wait to meet Jessica again and I'm glad you liked this book, despite that she made some questionable choices.

  9. To be honest, I haven't read any of the books in this series yet but I REALLY REALLY WANT TO. It totally seems like a series I will love. Charmed Thirds left you in an emotional mess with the romance, eh? I'm excited to meet this notorious Marcus Flutie. ;) I think this series just looks like a great, relatable contemporary story for us new adults. Lovely review, Keertana! I'm going to have to pick up Sloppy Firsts soon. :)

  10. This is usually the kind of read I don't gravitate toward, but when I do pick one up, I usually enjoy it. Hm... I think I need to start with the high school years and this one looks like a good addition. I also love it when you start yelling at the book even though they refuse to listen! LOL That's my kind of series. :D

  11. I loved Sloppy Firsts but for some reason, I never read the rest of the books. I'll fix that quickly and be back to read the review for the rest of the series. :)

  12. I'm glad you felt Charmed Thirds is just as good as - if not better than - the first and second Jessica Darling books, Keertana! That's definitely good news to hear when it does seem like so many reviewers think otherwise. I do agree that one of the strongest aspects of books one and two is being able to connect with Jessica and also feeling a certain sense of nostalgia for her experiences. Fortunately for me, I have graduated college so I'm sure I'll still get to feel that sense of nostalgia in Charmed Thirds. :) I definitely need to continue with this series and see what happens next to Jessica!

  13. argh! for some reason i stopped at number two! (and i loaned out my books and then we moved and now i will never see them again)

    your review has me suddenly getting all antsy about it...

    loved the review. you write so compellingly...

  14. You make me want to re-read this series, Keertana! I really loved these books and Jessica

  15. I just love how much you're enjoying this series! I tried reading the first book once, but series like Jessica rarely work for me and I'm not even sure why.
    It seems to be a very emotional experience for you, and the characters (Jessica especially) sound wonderful.

  16. This is a great review of a pretty complicated book. Charmed Thirds is my least fave of the three JD books I have read. (I own Fourth Comings and plan to read it & the final book over the summer.) I think that because so much time was smooshed into one book, her ENTIRE college experience!, was one of the reasons I didn't enjoy this book as much.

    And then there is the whole Marcus situation. After the incredible coming together in Second Helpings, I found myself so PISSED at Marcus in this book. But after reflecting, I guess that the choices he made (even though they were pretty out there in some cases) were important because life is like that sometimes. People drift in and out. People make life choices that are different from your own. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it felt authentic and that I do love about McCafferty's books.

    And I also appreciated watching Jessica continue to develop and grow as a character. It feels more evident in this book than any of the others.

    And the depiction of college life? Loved it. Again, it felt pretty darn REAL.

    Excited to hear your thoughts on Bk #4, though I may wait to read it after I finish the book too:)

  17. I have the first one of this series but I didn't know it left on a cliffhanger! I'll be sure to have the second one before I start this series. Another one I've been dying to read. I just do not have enough time to read every thing I want, Keertana!! *sobs* Lovely review. :)

  18. Okay, friend, you have officially convinced me to get over my fear of reading Charmed Thirds and pick it up already. Like you, I have skeptical feelings toward it, and was largely content to just pretend there were only two Jessica Darling books--I've heard too many mixed things about the rest of the series. But I love your description of this one as introspective and a collection of stories rather than a constant entry of everyday life. I WILL pick this one up. =)


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