Jessica Darling is 10
Those of you familiar with the Jessica Darling series, by Megan McCafferty, need no introduction. Those of you who’ve been through my book section will know that McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts, and all that came after, is on the list of my All Time Reads. And this month, Sloppy Firsts is 10 years old. Which means Jessica Darling has been around for a decade. A decade!
You are very welcome to skip this post if Sloppy Firsts and Jessica Darling do not interest you. But if you do, and if you haven’t read the series, I think you may be dismissing something that’s already been overlooked and underrated.
Jessica Darling is almost like a Holy Grail for Duana and me. When we realised last week that the 10 year anniversary was upon us, of course we put down whatever it was that we were currently reading, and started re-reading Sloppy Firsts all over again. Without skimming. Isn’t that the sign (one of many) of something special?
Here is our tribute to Sloppy Firsts and Jessica Darling. It’s the end of summer. And if you don’t know her, there’s no better time than now to start. Sloppy Firsts is an ideal end of summer read.
How I’m feeling right now:
- Pessimistically hungry
- Enthusiastically lazy
- Uncomfortably bloated
The combination of all three may result in a major meltdown next week when my clothes don’t fit. You know, I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t care if my clothes don’t fit but I can’t deny, I spend even more time caring about why. And you’d think by now, at this age, that more important things would occupy more space in my head. Which is why I’m pretty sure I would have totally been a member of the Clueless Crew, and you were totally Jessica Darling.
Jessica Darling! Is 10 years old!
Megan McCafferty gave us Jessica Darling in Sloppy Firsts 10 years ago! And now they’re celebrating the anniversary!
I read Jessica Darling 8 years ago. It was Summer 2003. I’d just come back from helping my ma after her transplant, temping at a research lab, looking for permanent work. Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings were back to back. Then, 3 months later, I brought home my puppy Marcus. Also, I had a crush on a lab tech who took the form of Krispy Kreme. Is that weird? Jessica and I were crushing at the same time. Just one of many ways we could all identify with Jessica Darling, perhaps even more so as an adult.
The other night I went to see a friend with a 14 year old daughter, M. She’s smart and well read, and cares about boys and clothes, and has recently been asking if she can buy her underwear at La Senza. Why on earth does a 14 year old girl need fancy lingerie? The immediate inclination of course is to assume that she wants to take her clothes off, push her tits together, and get dirty with the cute guy in homeroom. The reality though is that at that age, you do it so that when you change in front of your friends – other GIRLS – you don’t feel left out. OF COURSE. Of course that’s the reason. I need girls like her to remind me of these things. And Jessica Darling.
M also spent her entire school year obsessing about an older boy. She left notes for him in his locker. Quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt. Some of her own poetry and musings. Passages from her favourite books. She signed them with a code name. And at the end of the school play in June, he called her out on it. In a very kind way. But are you cringing? I was cringing. Cringing with experience. That which we learn only AFTER leaving notes. The difference is that we didn’t tell our mothers about them. But M did. And her mother, my friend, didn’t stop her. She didn’t step in to tell her that she’d regret it later. Why? Because those mistakes need to happen. And after they happen, the shame sets in and you’ll always remember, one of the early steps towards self-preservation. Would I have the courage and the conviction NOT to step in and let her learn for herself? Would you?
Jessica Darling had to throw down in the cafeteria in order to blow up her social life and put it back together. You can reset in high school. Do you do it there so that you’ll know what it feels like when you have to do it later, in your 20s and again in your 30s, and probably once again in your 40s? It’s too easy to dismiss that these are the tales of teens without relevance to what we eventually become.
Yeah, I have been for years straight up PISSY that McCafferty and the Jessica Darling series don’t get the cred that they deserve. McCafferty/Darling should be as recognisable as so many other YA literary phenoms and, UGH, certainly more so than Stephenie Meyer and Twilight. Do you know many times I’ve been answered by a blank stare whenever I namecheck any combination of the following: McCafferty, Jessica Darling, Marcus Flutie, Miss Hyacinth Wallace! I’m not denying the existence of a hardcore cult following, no. But Jessica Darling is SO F-CKING GOOD, she should be, like, part of the consciousness. Instant recognition. And I’ve often wondered what it was about this series that kept it from lighting up the zeitgeist the way so many other series have. Because we both know, just as many adults appreciate Jessica as teens do. I would argue that you appreciate her MORE as an adult as you do a teen. And this has nothing to do with the fact that I insist on wearing clothes with infantile animal prints.
Is it because Jessica came just before the popularity of the supernatural? Was it simply timing? Here’s the story about a girl with such a true voice, such a real sensibility, such an incredible sense of humour and wit, who is smart, and flawed, and really really interesting and also really, really ordinary, but she doesn’t fly, doesn’t live forever, doesn’t bite, doesn’t cast spells, and sometimes yells at her parents. Is it that, Duana? Or is it because she’s not perfect??? What has happened to the collective Us that a story set in our time and reality is not enough?
I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know, 10 years later, that there will be those, perhaps after this reading, who will be lucky enough to discover Jessica Darling for the very first time. And laugh like an idiot to themselves reading Sloppy Firsts on the bus. And obsessively burn through the next 4 to get to the conclusion.
So why am I pessimistically hungry, enthusiastically lazy, and uncomfortably bloated? Well, on the 10 year anniversary of Jessica Darling, guess what I just read... twice? Of course. All of them. Now that that’s over, I’ve eaten my way through the sadness, am excited about doing nothing but sitting on the couch daydreaming about Marcus Flutie, and totally expanding because obviously all the food has nowhere else to go. But still it’s like Airplane for me. Every time I read her, something else is funny to me. Or sad. Or amazingly authentic. Oh wait, now I’m getting mad again that most of the people reading this blog have no idea why we’re doing a virtual hug and hand-hold over a book series about a regular girl with a porn star name who lives in New Jersey.
I am up late, by myself. I don’t even feel sleepy. I so miss this. I used to be an insomniac. Like Jessica. I had all this time to myself, to think and partly work but also just to psych myself into the mindset of what went on that day, what would happen tomorrow. I got a lot done. I probably ruined my metabolism for years.
This is part of what I think of when I think of Jessica. How she had infinite time to be in her own head. And how at hrmhrmmyagewhatever that’s a blessing but when you’re 15 it’s a curse.
As we’ve been talking about 10 years – 10 years! – this week, it’s occurred to me that that’s the sentiment I think about most where Sloppy Firsts is concerned. The idea that you cannot escape yourself when you are in high school. The injustices that you know are bullsh-t and the things you know you’re getting histrionic about despite them not actually mattering and the utter mundanity of the day in, day out – you can’t escape it ever, the only way out is through.
One of the things I think about, when I think about this stuff, aside from being mildly shocked that I am not still 15-going-on-16 (and let me tell you how not-romantic that time in my life was), is that I could have been so many different people. Who I was then? Nobody in particular, yet. A set of traits but not a full person. And there were a series of things that happened in my life, three lefts and then a right, two zags and etc that made me me, now, today. But I could have been someone else. I could have been quieter. Shorter. More studious. Maybe I would have haunted some more hallowed halls.
This is what I wonder about that first year we meet Jessica. Obviously If. If Marcus hadn’t been next door, listening. If Hope hadn’t moved away. If Jessica had been only an average student.
But also, what if Scotty had been just a little more palatable? What if Gladdie wasn’t the same? What if Jessica decided to pick up even one phone call from Hy?
I remember when you told me about Jessica Darling. The name nor the book titles convinced me. I wasn’t sure at all. If you’d told me about anyone else in the same breath I might have written her off altogether. As it was, I picked up three volumes before a doctors’ appointment. I loved them. Then I felt guilty. How many other things am I missing without looking?
This is something Jessica would be ashamed of. That she had to let a friend point her to something she should have seen on her own. Marcus did this to her a lot. But from Hope, Jessica could always take it.
I don’t know though, if I could have handled reading about her at 16 when I was that age. Jessica is still, even in her wavering snivelly self-centeredness, awfully self-possessed. You know, because I have told you, that one of my favourite things about Jessica is her brattiness. Her utter imperfection. She can see the difference between her behavior, and the relatively small adjustments that would make her behaviour better. But she can’t do it. She just can’t adjust. And I think that’s something that takes years to reconcile. For those of us who were brats. The more I talk to some of my friends, the more I realize that wasn’t a universal experience. That particular brand of sullen-bratty, up-all-night, incessantly restless in your own skin but powerless to do anything about it, that isn’t everyone’s experience. Some people were happyish. And not in a Clueless Crew kind of way, either. Now I kind of see that particular brattiness as a badge of warfare. I made it through.
So you ask why Jessica hasn’t resonated with the millions. I think this is the bravest thing. Nobody could have known, 10 years ago, what was coming in good ol’ pink-alley (not a euphemism but it may as well be) YA Aisle in the bookstore. Nobody could know that girls wouldn’t really be allowed to experience emotions unless they were through the prism of the fantasmagorical. I mean of course I don’t believe that, and neither do hundreds of incredibly incisive YA authors, but – Jessica Darling got to grow up.
And I think that’s what’s so awfully scary.
There aren’t open ends to Jessica’s story. There are many possibilities early on, but she makes choices. It’s not Sliding Doors. She doesn’t get to go backwards. She makes dumb, stupid decisions. Loses what she loves most. More than once. She is so incredibly, unflinchingly human.
I think a lot about whether Jessica and I would like each other. We are awfully similar. I think she would be exhausting to spend time with, and also exhilarating. I think she would be the kind of friend with whom I would take breaks. I think the neuroses might run into each other. I worry that she would outgrow me, that she would get the clues faster. But I can imagine the joy of sharing them, screeching. In utter mortification that this stilted, awkward, disgusting process is what passes for ‘growing up’. ‘falling in love’. ‘becoming an adult’. It’s actually completely preposterous.
I’m so glad I know her.