If you haven’t finished Sloppy Firsts and/or Second Helpings and don’t want any spoilers, stop here! I’m reviewing the third novel in Megan McCafferty‘s Jessica Darling series, Charmed Thirds! Yes, I will reiterate a million more times that this is my FAVORITE YA series. This might be my least favorite book in the series but it’s still one of my favorite books.
Charmed Thirds follows Jessica through her college career, checking in on her during winter and summer breaks. She and Marcus go through difficulties as they manage their long-distance relationship. We see changes occur in Jessica’s family life and finally get to see Hope in action for more than a few pages, which is funny when you remember that Hope moving away is the catalyst for the whole series. It was nice to finally see the friendship Jessica mourned over in Sloppy Firsts and understand why she was wounded losing Hope to Tennessee.
I wasn’t a huge fan of how quickly the book flew through her college years but I get that writing a full book for each year of Jessica’s college education probably wasn’t something Megan McCafferty really wanted to do. Also, after waiting two full books for Jessica and Marcus to finally get together, I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of times we saw them being imperfectly perfect together. As a teenager whose heart and soul had yet to be crushed by the disappointment of the real-life dating scene, my hormones were all hyped up. Now I know better.
That’s really all I remember about the book, so I guess I should get reading, huh?
Teenage Rating: 4 out of 5 regrettable college hook-ups
Okay, I was DEFINITELY wrong about the Hope/Jessica friendship being a big part of this book…
Charmed Thirds picks up a year after we last saw Jessica and spans through to her college graduation in December 2005. We pick up during the summer after her freshman year, when Jessica is home again in Pineville celebrating her niece Marin’s first birthday. That weird feeling of being home for the first time after being in college makes Jessica feel like she doesn’t really have a home in Pineville any more, yet Columbia doesn’t feel like home to her either. She’s caught between childhood and adulthood.
A sweet reunion with Marcus, who’s been studying at a Buddhist school in California, briefly subdues her scattered mind but things don’t stay sweet for long. Jessica’s preoccupation with Marcus’s past status as a manwhore makes her crave reassurance that he loves her and only her. Jessica’s passion is bursting at the seams, whereas Marcus’s Buddhist teachings manifest in his tranquility towards the situation, which registers to Jessica as ambivalence. A distance grows between them as family obligations get in the way of the couple’s alone time after months of being apart and Jessica’s discontent ignites when they run into one of Marcus’s former “hoochie mamas.” At the end of the summer, after the two lived together in Brooklyn while Jessica took a disappointing internship, Jessica returns a ring Marcus made for her and refuses to join him on his car ride back to California.
For the next few years, Jessica deals with their non-break up and the disillusionment that comes with being an undergrad. She has casual relationships with a series of men who are obviously not right for her, has disappointing internships and work experiences, realizes she chose the wrong major, is financially cut-off by her parents, AND walks in on them having sex. She and Hope gradually lose touch but Jessica still can’t find a friendship that compares to theirs, much like her lustful conquests can’t stack up to the elusive Marcus Flutie. Marcus takes a vow of silence, and then leaves Buddhism school for a student-run college whose students sever ties with the outside world until they graduate. It’s the first time Jessica can’t find herself among the rubble of her life.
However, the hit to her ego allows her to see the people around her with renewed vision. She realizes she can be crappy to her parents and her sister when they mean well and care about her. It astounds her that she and her former high school friends can run into each other at the mall and laugh about the past instead of creating new drama. The cracks in her sister’s seemingly picture-perfect marriage begin to show, proving Bethany’s not the complete Stepford Wife Jessica had always imagined. As someone who thought she had her future and the world around her figured out, Jessica decides she may not know anything at all. Will she find out if her love for Marcus was true or only a high school relationship? Will she find her path in life?
This book really struck a chord with me because this is EXACTLY how I feel right now. When Jessica talks to Mac, her mentor from her summer writing program in high school, she tells him she majored in Psychology to figure out what makes people tick, but then realized she doesn’t want to work with people in that capacity. She feels as though she’s thrown away her education because she didn’t give her future career enough thought when she entered college. I’ve recently had many regrets about the same thing. I stuck to the education path because I’d been a student practically my whole life, teaching was the next logical step to make. I didn’t give any other careers a thought, and I wish I’d taken advantage of services in college to search out other paths. You always seem to realize these things after the fact.
Jessica’s worries about her relationship with Marcus hit home. After a breakup, you’ve probably wondered if your ex ever really loved you. Was any of it true? Will you get back together? Would you even WANT to get back with your ex? Did you imagine the relationship to be more epic than it really was? Will anyone love you ever again? I was never in a relationship until after college (I’m a late bloomer…) but I imagine this is something people often think about their high school sweethearts. At first Jessica only has her ill-fated relationship with Len to compare her relationship with Marcus to, and wonders if she hasn’t experienced enough of life yet to know what love really is. Whenever she’s with a new man, her mind always goes back to Marcus.
Becoming an adult is scary business. Your best-laid plans quickly fall asunder as the Real Life adults have warned you about screws you over every which way. You make poor life choices. You lose touch with people. You discover more about yourself and learn to appreciate things more than you used to. Jessica finds that amid all this change, you can find comfort in the support of the people who will always be there for you. Megan McCafferty did a great job of capturing these turbulent, crappy, wonderful years of flux.
Adulthood Rating: 5 out of 5 Barry Manilow toilet seat covers