I am super excited to talk about the second installment of Megan McCafferty‘s Jessica Darling series, Second Helpings. First, a warning: If you plan to read Sloppy Firsts, you probably shouldn’t read this review. It’ll be impossible for me to discuss this book without spoiling the ending of Sloppy Firsts. You have been warned!
After finishing Sloppy Firsts in high school, I was desperate to find out what happened next. Luckily, the school library had the sequel ready and waiting for me and I tore through it. This is probably my favorite book in the series, from what I remember. Want to hear an embarrassing story about me? After reading the first two books, I knew I needed to buy them and add them to my library. I found one copy of Second Helpings at Barnes and Noble, and walked away to ask my mom if I could buy a book (I didn’t have a job or money). She said yes and when I returned to the shelf…THE BOOK WAS GONE. I was so upset about having the book slip through my fingers I cried the whole twenty-minute ride home and my mom took me to other bookstores in my hometown to find a copy to no avail. As we drove home in defeat my mom looked at me, wary judgment in her eyes, and went, “Why are you upset over a book?”
Let me tell you why I was upset over a book. This book picks up after Jessica falls out with Marcus over his admission that he originally began talking to her as a challenge. The Class Man-Slut wanted to see if he could corrupt the Pure Brainiac. Jessica is understandably disgusted with him and feels completely betrayed. After her best friend, Hope moved away, Jessica allowed herself to embrace her connection with Marcus only to discover his intentions were dishonest. When you let your guard down and catch feelings for someone only to discover they weren’t the person you thought they were it’s crushing. Knowing there was a sequel gave me hope and boy does it pay off.
From my memory, Second Helpings picks up where Sloppy Firsts leaves off. Jessica still is not talking to Marcus but that obviously doesn’t last very long. Seeing them rekindle their friendship is tender and heartwarming, with plenty of the usual Jessica and Marcus mess-ups, misunderstandings, and mistakes. The book chronicles their senior year and ends with graduation, so we see Jessica and Marcus figuring out the next step in their lives and closing the book on their childhood. I read this book during my senior year so it hit close to home. Jessica’s journey in this installment is a satisfying ride and I enjoyed every minute of it during all of my previous rereads. Time to give it another go!
Teenage Rating: 5 out of 5 “You, Yes, You” red t-shirts
Oh man, reading this book brings me straight back to high school. All the uncertainty, drama, and hormones are there. Second Helpings picks up six months after the events of Sloppy Firsts. Jessica is attending an academic summer camp for the arts, focusing on writing while avoiding Pineville and Marcus. In classic Jessica luck, the camp turns out to be the angsty goth version of high school and she spends most of her time writing about how much her fellow campers suck. Her ballerina roommate Mary goes by the name “Chantalle” and is only interested in bedding the seven hottest boys and Jessica’s writing program classmates are more interested in being the most emo writer in the room and criticizing each other than improving their writing. During a camp trip to NYC, Jessica runs into Paul Parlipiano, her gay high school crush, and he introduces her to Columbia. Up until this point, Jessica had narrowed down her list of colleges to apply to, but she’s enamored with the city setting and Paul’s passion for the student activism on campus. Jessica’s writing teacher believes the only thing holding Jessica back from improving her writing is experiencing life outside of small-town Pineville and encourages her quest for Columbia as well.
In September, Jessica is preoccupied with the awkwardness of being in the same building as Marcus since their falling out. 9/11 quickly overshadows the Marcus issue as Jessica deals with whether or not to apply to Columbia because of the attack, and feeling like she’s not responding appropriately to the tragedy. Most people who were teenagers during 9/11 could relate to Jessica’s response. It was such a scary, unstable time and it was easy to feel guilty when you felt anything other than pure grief and fear. Jessica portrays this experience as she feels weird worrying about normal concerns when something horribly abnormal occurred. Her grades slip, she has trouble sleeping, and starts rethinking her choices.
Jessica quickly drops out of her involvement in the school newspaper and the track team, deciding she’s not going to spend time doing something she excels at but isn’t passionate about. She and Marcus begin to gently mend their friendship as he sets her up with his friend, Len Levy. Jessica is somewhat intrigued by this development as Len’s Accutane-fueled summer makeover and involvement in a band with Marcus make him outwardly appealing. However, she notes that her journal entries barely mention him even after they become a couple. She wonders if she’s hyped up relationships all this time because her experience with Len doesn’t match up with her fantasies. She doesn’t feel any fireworks, has to constantly remind herself she’s someone’s girlfriend, and prefers to gaze at Len rather than have a conversation with him. Obviously, she’s in denial about not being over Marcus.
In her last months of high school Jessica experiences loss, love, birth, death, and all the scary decisions leading up to high school graduation and those final pangs of instant nostalgia right before it’s all over. She looks back at how she’s grown, the people she’s spent her childhood with, and her burgeoning plans for the future with calm satisfaction, knowing she wouldn’t be the same person if not for all the crappy times.
Jessica’s signature cynical humor is on full display again as she battles with her inner desires, eviscerates the phoniness of her peers, and comments on the highs and lows of senioritis. Marcus is still frustratingly perfect as he tries to regain Jessica’s friendship while simultaneously befriending her grandmother and creating a band named after the subtly sexual poem he wrote for her the previous year. He’s the reformed bad boy every straight girl still secretly pines for. It’s easy to relate to Jessica and Len’s relationship. As a teen (and even as an adult) we sometimes enter relationships because we feel like we shouldn’t be single, or we’re bored. We can even convince ourselves we like someone and then wonder why we feel nothing when we finally snag the person. Not all of our relationships are going to be pure, honest, and perfectly romantic. Sometimes they’re mediocre and forgettable, and I liked that Jessica got to experience a relationship that wasn’t with Marcus. One of my many beefs with other YA novels is the alpha couple is together through a whole series and never get to experience anything other than each other. Kissing the proverbial frogs before finding your prince helps you to whittle down exactly what you do and don’t want from a relationship and is as important to your development as your happy ending.
Jessica’s friendships with Bridget and French class partner Percy develop, and she continues to keep in touch with Hope but we don’t get to see their friendship in full swing until the next book (I think). Jessica’s former friends (Manda, Sara, and Scotty) are obvious caricatures of obnoxious, superficial, image-obsessed popular kids and the side plot about Hy’s book about her experiences at Pineville High inspiring a movie are somewhat over the top but they still work within the story. By the end of the book, Jessica is less bitter towards them and the high school experience as graduation starts to put things into perspective. The transience of high school is only apparent after it’s over, making everything in high school seem serious at the time. Reading this book when I was a senior made me take time to appreciate the fleeting nature of that part of my life. The pop culture references, while dated, won’t impede on a current teen’s enjoyment of the book.
The prom chapter is probably my absolute favorite fictional portrayal of prom ever. The payoff is immense and I’m pretty sure I cried the first time I read it. Jessica and Marcus don’t spend all their time pining for each other and gushing over how beautiful/handsome the other person is. I love how they have callbacks to the previous year and inside jokes that last through the series. What appeals to me the most about this series is how realistic the characters are. They have past issues, they make poor choices, they’re judgmental, they’re shitty to each other, and that doesn’t make them atrocious people. They’re still growing up and finding out who they are. They are perfect in their imperfection.
Adulthood Rating: 5 out of 5 Marcus Fluties