March 23, 2013

Review: Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
Published: 2003, Three Rivers Press
Series: Jessica Darling, #2
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Sloppy Firsts (my review)
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We are perfect in our imperfection.

Within two books, the Jessica Darling series has shown me just how relaxing and comforting it can be to read contemporary fiction about the everyday trials and tribulations of modern-day life. While it'll never be my favorite genre, I want to find more books like this to have a place in my heart.

Senior year contains two main preoccupations for Jessica Darling: getting into Columbia and losing her virginity. Over the summer while Jessica participates in SPECIAL (a program for gifted rising high school seniors), her creative writing professor puts the idea of attending Columbia University in her head. And then while attending a SPECIAL poetry reading in New York City, Jessica meets her old crush Paul Parlipiano, who is currently attending Columbia. Columbia doesn't match her top four colleges list, but Jessica finds herself no longer caring about that list, nor her parents' fears of her attending any college within a major city. Rivaling her obsession with attending Columbia is Jessica's new found obsession with her own sexual inexperience. For the majority of her senior year, Jessica's willing to let most other fall to the wayside as she fixates on those two things. Except, of course, her friendship with Hope and what continues to be going on between Marcus Flutie and her. 

For most people, senior year of high school is an odd one. It's a bit like the calm before the storm, with everyone constantly aware of big changes on the horizon, from graduation to leaving home to attend college to eventual adulthood. As Jessica quite accurately points out, for people like Manda, Sara, and Scotty, high school represents their golden years. Never again will they be as young, as popular, as important. But for people like Jessica, Hope, and maybe even Bridget and Marcus, college offers a chance to do something better and important with their lives. I was of the latter mentality myself, and it definitely helped me sympathize with many of the choices Jessica makes. She doesn't like doing this? Fine, she won't do it anymore. Jessica's liberation from things she doesn't like is exhilarating, but at times rather flippant. Readers and Jessica herself understand that Jessica no longer wants to do things simply because they're expected of her, but that then leads to the question: what does she want to do simply for her own sake? Much of Second Helpings is devoted to the search for that answer. 

I really enjoyed seeing Jessica's Pineville relationships become much further defined. For a large percentage of Sloppy Firsts, Jessica is in such a disconsolate state that she cannot really work on developing her relationships with those still left around her. Although Hope remains a vital part of Jessica's life, in Second Helpings we as readers witness Jessica gaining a little more confidence and self-assurance, and coming to the realization that perhaps there can be other people who can relate to her outside of Hope. Bridget, Pepe, and Marcus are not quite the support network that Jessica would have ever imagined, but all prove themselves to be loyal and worthy of mutual respect and friendship.

And, for the first time, Jessica's relationship with Hope is no longer portrayed as completely one-sided. It made sense in Sloppy Firsts, where Jessica's major story arc was coming to terms to life in Pineville without her best friend, for Hope to have no role outside of the recipient of Jessica's letters. But in Second Helpings Jessica is starting to come to terms with what she wants and needs in her own life, and readers are satisfyingly shown slight ways in which Hope supports Jessica. 

Any review of Second Helpings would be remiss without mentioning a certain Marcus Flutie and his evolving relationship with Jessica. I was not quite sure what to think about him or the friendship he formed with Jessica over the course of Sloppy Firsts. Although through Jessica readers are told that Marcus is working to become reformed, it was difficult for me to see (especially when, at the end of Sloppy Firsts, he reveals that he had initially struck up a friendship in order to try to sleep with her). After months spent distancing herself from him, both Jessica and the readers are able to better see Marcus' transformation. And by the end of the novel I found myself very much of the opinion that Marcus and Jessica just seem right for each other. Their temperaments, experiences, and needs balance one another quite well.

This would not be another Jessica Darling book without some traditional Jessica Darling-style humor and a slew of poor decisions, most of which are centered around the two obsessions mentioned above. Up through at least half the book (or even more), Jessica allows her perceptions of others and their thoughts to strongly affect her thoughts on where to attend college and when/how/where/with whom to have sex. It is difficult to remain frustrated at Jessica for too long, however, especially when considering that she is at that vulnerable teenage age where others' thoughts and opinions really do seem to matter. For all of her intelligence and sense of bravado, Jessica continues to be very much aware of and affected by what other expect of her. Still, her story arc is satisfying as she does begin to exhibit more confidence and her sense of self grows a bit stronger over the course of the novel.  

While reading Second Helpings I found myself alternately amused, exasperated, contemplative, and just appreciative of Jessica's struggles and how difficult senior year of high school really can be. Some of the things Jessica chooses to fixate on may be petty, but McCafferty ultimately paints a refreshing portrait of modern life.  From Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, it's become pretty clear that Jessica Darling has quite outgrown Pineville, New Jersey and its inhabitants. She needs bigger challenges and a bigger purpose with her life. I'm eager to see how she reacts to college life in Charmed Thirds, which I plan on picking up soon.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. Haha, it's hilarious to me that you describe reading these books as relaxing and comforting, because they turn me into an utter anxious mess!! I literally can't sleep while reading them because I'm SO STRESSED bout Jessica and Marcus. This is a great review though, Amanda. Like you said, a lot of this book can seem petty, but the reality is these are the things that concern many average high school seniors. They angst about college and friendships and relationships. I still haven't gone on to read the rest of this series, but you're right, contemp can be so fun and relaxing, I need to read more myself!

    1. ha I guess I read Jessica's emotional turmoil from a bit of a distance? I do remember you mentioning how stressed Second Helpings made you, but for some reason it didn't affect me quite the same way. Although to be clear: I meant reading YA contemporaries as a whole genre is sometimes relaxing, simply because it's the same world I live in and I know what to expect to some degree. Thank you, Heidi! I look forward to reading the rest of the series as well. :)

  2. I'm in exactly the same place as Heidi (above) with Jessica Darling! I love her, but the girl stresses me out! I've read the first and second books but I bit my nails and paced the floors while I did. And after I finished this second book, I LOVED the ending. I loved it so much that I'm scared to keep going with the series. With three books left, there are BOUND to be stressful screw-ups between these two that will likely leave me in tears and I just want to sit on how great the ending of this one is for a while. BUT I probably ought to just breeze through the rest of the series otherwise I'll never make myself read it.

    This is one of my favorite contemporary series.

    1. I guess I'm the odd one out here, but I didn't really feel super stressed by Jessica. I think I have faith that in the end things will work out just fine for her. At least, I hope so. And I know I still have 3 more books of her, so I'm expecting that she continues to grow and mature and all. And I agree, Asheley! I only wish I had known about this series when I was in high school.

  3. I can't wait to read Second Helpings soon! I'm sure I'm in for a hell of a ride. And I'm especially anxious to see things unfold between Jessica and Marcus. Though I also, like you, felt disappointed in Marcus after his confession, I realize that these two are really well suited for each other and I cannot wait to see more of them together. And I also look forward to more of Jessica's shenanigans even though I'm sure it will stress me out as it has others. This girl can really make me laugh. Great review!

    1. I can't wait for you to read it either! Then we can DISCUSS. :) Thanks, Cort!


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