Jessica Darling, Book 1
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Description from Goodreads:
“My parents suck ass. Banning me from the phone and restricting my computer privileges are the most tyrannical parental gestures I can think of. Don’t they realize that Hope’s the only one who keeps me sane? . . . I don’t see how things could get any worse.”
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?
A fresh, funny, utterly compelling fiction debut by first-time novelist Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look 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. Like a John Hughes for the twenty-first century, Megan McCafferty taps into the inherent humor and drama of the teen experience. This poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.
First Sentence: "Hope, I guess your move wasn't a sign of the Y2K teen angst apocalypse after all."
Oddly, I do not remember this book having a profound impact on my teen self, which is ridiculous, because Jessica Darling is a heroine I relate to even now, in my dotage. She's intelligent, way more studious than I ever was. She uses her intelligence to be a smart-ass and to over-think everything (hey, soul sister!). I love the way she thinks about everything, because the way she delves into minor details and thinks herself into an endless cycle of worry is completely identifiable. Her constant mental whirlwind reminds me a lot of the Ruby Oliver books by E. Lockhart, though those are a bit on the lighter side tone-wise.
The writing is pitch perfect, capturing the personality of Jessica Darling. Her mental landscape is a very familiar place, and it's frankly terrifying how much I still identify with so far as her insecurities go. Those easily offended by swearing or the use of terms like 'ho' or 'hoochie' will probably be offended by a lot of what Jessica writes in her journal, but McCafferty's not making a statement with those things. This is how a lot of teens talk and think, and she uses these words not to be shocking but to be real. I love watching Jessica evolve throughout, working through things and changing opinions she previously held based on new information.
As with many contemporary teen novels, Sloppy Firsts focuses on popularity and friendship in high school. Jessica's best friend, Hope, has moved away, leaving her to navigate the social minefield of high school alone. Now, Jessica's actually in a pretty popular crowd, but she does not feel any less alone, because, really, she hates their guts. If she left she would have no one, and she's not brave enough for that (and, honey, let me tell you, not having friends is worse). Where most stories would be about embracing your true self and finding perfect happiness as a result, a group of kindred spirits appearing to embrace you, Sloppy Firsts isn't. The themes of being true to yourself are, but sometimes your kindred spirit moved away or just doesn't exist, and it's sad but true. However, she does find that maybe things aren't so bad as she thought they were, too, in that she can be more connected, even if the people here aren't Hope.
Romantic relationships and sex are also a huge part of the novel. Most of Jessica's 'friends' are very sexually active, whether they've done the deed or not. Jessica has had just one (really gross) kiss. Teen sex lives are very openly discussed, and I love McCafferty's frank attitude towards this topic. I'm especially impressed since the book came out in 2000, not in the more permissive current YA landscape. Way to go, McCafferty.
The Darling parents receive quite a bit of focus as well. They are present parents, but highly flawed ones. Due to the death of her brother from SIDS before her birth, they're both emotionally damaged. Her mother spends all of her energy planning Bethany's (Jess' much older sister) wedding. Jess' father only cares about her as an athlete, raising her like the son he didn't get to keep. Jessica struggles with her parents' treatment of her, feeling inferior both to the living and departed sibling. Their familial relationships ache with honesty and miscommunication, as well as naturally disparate personalities.
Marcus Flutie. If you mention this book to anyone who's read it, their first response will invariably be something like this, "MARCUS FLUTIE!!!! WAZZAHHHHH!" Now, I remembered Marcus Flutie vaguely. Basically, I recalled that he eventually becomes the love interest, but that's about it. Imagine my surprise when he's a drug-doing guy with dreads. That threw some serious cold water on my memory. If the book has any weakness at all (a point I'm undecided on, so I'm going for the full rating because this book is really good), it's how quickly Jessica becomes obsessed with Marcus when he's Krispy Kreme, when there's no way I could crush on a guy like that. However, I am not Jessica, and she lives her life in fantasies, so, on a lot of levels, that really makes sense. He pays attention to her, even an irritating non-flattering sort of attention, when she feels incredibly alone. Thankfully, Marcus does evolve as a character, because he's super icky at first. I'm not fully sold on him yet, but I am desperate to find out what happens next because that ending was mean.
You've probably heard of the Jessica Darling books by now, but, if you haven't, I highly recommend giving them a try. Sloppy Firsts is daring, funny, sad, thought-provoking, and unflinchingly honest. If you enjoy E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver books, you most definitely need to read Megan McCafferty.
"Right now I feel guilty to be alive. Why? Because I'm wasting it. I've been given this life and all I do is mope it away.
What's worse is, I am totally aware of how ridiculous I am. It would be a lot easier if I believed I was the center of the universe, because then I wouldn't know any better not to make a big deal out of everything. I know how small my problems, are, yet that doesn't stop me from obsessing about them.
I have to stop doing this.
How do other people get happy? I look at people laughing and smiling and enjoying themselves and try to get inside their heads. How do Bridget, Manda, and Sara do it? Or Pepe? Or everyone but me?
Why does everything I see bother me? Why can't I just get over these daily wrongdoings? Why can't I just move on and make the best of what I've got?
I wish I knew."