Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Published: 2001, Broadway
Series: Jessica Darling, #1
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library ebook
This is my new hobby. I watch my life depart minute by minute. I anticipate the end of everything and anything -- a conversation, a class, track practice, darkness -- only to be left with more clock-watching to take its place. I'm continually waiting for something better that never comes. Maybe it would help if I knew what I wanted.
Jessica Darling, why did I not know about your existence sooner? I loved both the book and the character reading it right now and can only imagine how much I would have enjoyed reading about Jessica's experiences if I were closer to her age.
Life pretty much sucks for Jessica Darling. Her best friend Hope moved to Tennessee right before Jessica's sixteenth birthday, leaving Jessica to deal with a family who doesn't understand her, a friend group she does not want to be a part of, and limited motivation for school and sports. To top it off, her period has gone MIA and she can't sleep at night. And so Jessica believes she’s alone, with no one to really confide in as she goes through another mind-numbing year of adolescence. Through journal entries and letters to Hope, Jessica chronicles the events in her life from January 1 of her sophomore year to January 1 of her junior year.
Jessica Darling is possibly the most perfectly imperfect protagonist of any YA contemporary I've read. She is intelligent, sarcastic, perceptive, and angsty by turn. But who can really blame her? In all of my reading experiences, she is by far one of the easiest protagonists to identify with. She’s the high schooler who wants more out of her life, but just isn’t sure what form that “more” should take.
As Jessica struggles to adjust to a life without Hope (ha), there is an intense emphasis on the self. Although she is both a star runner and holds one of the highest GPAs at her school, neither of those abilities defines her. Jessica defined herself in relation to Hope, her best friend, and with Hope no longer there, she's not quite sure who she is. She doesn't really want to be associated with the remaining girls in her friend group, whom she calls the Clueless Crew. She's not into material comforts like her her sister; in fact, she's so different from her sister that their mother has difficulties understanding Jessica. She's not into running quite enough to satisfy her father. And then there’s Marcus Flutie, resident druggie and playboy of the school, who keeps running into Jessica and seems to want something from her. So where does that leave Jessica? More than anything else, the novel explores Jessica's search for identity and authenticity.
Many times I felt doses of ennui along with Jessica over the ridiculous behavior of the Clueless Crew, frustration over her family’s inability to connect with her, sadness over the Hope-shaped void in her heart, and curiosity laced with suspicion over Marcus’ intentions. This is how I like to think back on teenage years: through a strong investment in a modern teen protagonist, without actually having to truly re-experience anything myself.
Jessica's search for understanding is not easy. While she herself cannot be easily pigeonholed into any stereotypes, however, that does not stop Jessica from assigning stereotypes onto others. Some of them are warranted, others not so much. Although Jessica does start becoming more empathetic of others as the year continues, it's a slow process. For such an intelligent and aware teen, there are times when Jessica is ridiculously naive and overly critical.
Nevertheless, it is through these relationships that Jessica forms with others that the novel really shines. While Hope may be physically absent from the story, her presence is still very much a part of Jessica’s life. Jessica not only highly values her friendship but is also able to regularly communicate with her friend. Even as an absent character, Hope is crucial to Jessica’s development. Shockingly, it is Marcus Flutie, the other secondary character, who really provides support to Jessica over the course of the year. Far from being simply another troubled young teen, however, Jessica and the readers come to realize that Marcus has much more to offer. And, most important of all, it is through their gradual friendship that Jessica is able to make some important realizations about herself, the image she projects to the world, and how she wants to be perceived.
Although the cliffhanger is immensely frustrating, and I can tell it'll only get worse as the series continues, I still can't help but root for Jessica and Marcus' relationship. Both have their fair share of flaws, but every person (especially Jessica, with how her life's been going) deserves to be with someone who really understands her, and who is willing to help her become a better person. I think that Marcus can be Jessica's aid to self-improvement, as she can be his. I guess I have four more books to read before I can tell whether that happens!
I can finally admit that I understand all the hype surrounding one book. While I’m not generally the black sheep in regards to liking/disliking popular books, sometimes the hype stops me from even giving a book a chance. I am grateful that was not the case here! In Sloppy Firsts, Megan McCafferty creates a humorous and fresh look at teens through the eyes of the incomparable Jessica Darling. If for some reason you have yet to read this book, then I encourage you to do so!
I read Sloppy Firsts as part of a readalong with the fabulous Courtney, and, wow, was that fun to do. I loved having someone on hand for discussion. The only negative there was I wanted to devour the book in one sitting, but we had set strict reading limits for each day, leaving time for daily discussions. Still, though, it was lots of fun. Now I just need to go find a copy of Second Helpings!