When Perfect Fifths, the final novel in the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty, was first released, I took a while to read it. Busy with college, I wasn’t keeping up with the series any more. I waited two summers to read the conclusion of Jessica and Marcus’s love story. When I finally got around to reading it, I immediately regretted waiting so long for this perfect ending. It’s all in the title, huh?
I feel like some authors put off finishing a series because they’re afraid they’re not going to be able to tie up the story in a pleasing way, or they half-ass the last novel in a series because they’re over it and want to move on to the next thing. That’s not the case with this novel. If you follow Megan McCafferty on Twitter or Facebook, it’s immediately clear how much this series means to her. Recently, she excitedly announced a TV movie based on the Jessica Darling prequel series, Jessica Darling’s IT-List. She MUST love the character if she made a prequel series, and this love for the world and the characters she created radiates through the pages.
I remember this book better than the previous two because it completely blew me away. After years of separation, Jessica and Marcus run into each other at an airport. Either Jessica’s flight is cancelled or she misses her plane, and she has to stay over at an airport hotel. Marcus offers to keep her company. Will sparks ignite?
…………..Of course they do. Now, to read this glorious book yet again!
Teenage Rating: 5 out of 5 perfect endings
Jessica is hauling ass through Newark Liberty Airport, already late for her flight to St. Thomas to officiate Bridget and Percy’s wedding the next day, when she runs headlong into Marcus Flutie. Only moments ago, Marcus, freshly returned from volunteer work in New Orleans with his college roommate Natty, heard Jessica’s name called over the PA system and wondered if the stars were aligning to reunite him with his fickle ex-lover. They exchange awkward pleasantries once they get over the shock of seeing each other after three years apart and Jessica runs to make her plane. She doesn’t make it.
Marcus, against his better judgment, follows Jessica and sees her miss her plane. Natty chastises him for immediately falling under her spell after finally getting over the heartbreak he suffered when she turned his proposal down. Marcus is determined to find out whether or not all is lost.
Jessica waits on line trying to find another flight and then goes to find the nearest airport bar when it’s apparent she’s not getting on a plane anytime soon. Airport security, who have Marcus in tow for loitering, stop her on her way. Marcus claims he was waiting for Jessica, and she corroborates his story. They pick up where their awkward reunion left off and talk about everything and nothing: what they’ve been up to the past few years, what acquaintances are up to, their usual clever banter, all the time omitting key, juicy details in the hopes the other will dig a little deeper and prove they aren’t over each other.
When Jessica’s stand-by flight is overbooked, they decide to share a room. Marcus lies about why he is at the airport in order to spend more time with her. Ever since she rejected his marriage proposal, Jessica has never been far from Marcus’s mind. At Princeton, he’s earned a nickname, “Slutty Professor”, for being an older, attractive student, as Jessica foretold during his first week of school. He’s drinking again, socially and moderately, and had an affair with an older professor who couldn’t erase his high school love from his mind. Jessica has spent the past few years as a mentor for the Do Better High School Storytellers Project, created by Jessica and funded by Hy, Jessica’s high school friend. Jessica travels to different schools across the country to hold workshops for young writers, urging them to improve their writing while speaking about their experiences, much as she did in her high school journals. One of these students from Jessica’s alma mater is in critical condition after an accident, leaving Jessica distraught and struggling to hold herself together. Will Jessica and Marcus finally break the wall they’ve built between each other? Will they reconcile? Is the spark still there? They have twelve hours in a hotel room to figure it all out.
This might sound like a dry concept, but the book is riddled with desire, hope, lust, regret, and fear that makes you feel every single tenuous emotion of their reunion. I absolutely loved that this book deviated from previous installments by being written in third person instead of first. We’re able to see the story from Marcus’s side for the first time, finally getting a look inside his frustratingly guarded head. (Spoilerish: he’s as dorky, hot, and sweet as always.) There’s also a chapter comprised of haikus Jessica and Marcus write back and forth to each other on the ride to their hotel. The haikus are clever, fun, and layered with barely-pent-up emotion. Another chapter is all dialogue between Marcus and Jessica. While I was Rereading the series, I realized how little we actually witness Marcus and Jessica talking. I thought I remembered more dialogue in the books, but I guess the immensity and quality of their conversations compensated for the limited quantity. It was awesome to finally get a whole chapter of their banter after all these years.
Jessica and Marcus have both grown since the last time we saw them, and have had to face the traits that contributed to their break-up. Jessica is trying to be aware of how her cynicism and snark can alienate others, learning to tone it down on behalf of her mentees. Marcus faced up to his relentless pursuit of the next shtick to make himself separate from the masses when his ex-lover gifted him with a pretentious present she presumed he would love. Jessica and Marcus both analyze these qualities that have always been the backbone of their personalities and see the detriments they’re bringing on themselves by sticking to old habits. They’re not reformed, but they’re finally aware of how these qualities might be hindering their progress and have begun to make a concerted effort to self-improve.
As the intensity of their verbal tango increases, cracks begin to form in the carefully built walls surrounding their hearts. Jessica and Marcus’s reunion plays out how anyone’s fantasy of reuniting with The One That Got Away does. Awkwardness slowly melts away, secrets are revealed, small gestures of reconciliation are made, and new understandings are reached, all with a little help from Barry Manilow. Not ashamed to say I cried. When you watch two characters grow from teenagers (pre-teens if you read the prequels) to adults in their mid-twenties still longing for each other, you tend to do that.
Adulthood Rating: 5 out of 5 marred kisses