Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty
Series: Jessica Darling, #3
Published: 2006, Crown
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Source: Borrowed from library
Contains spoilers for Sloppy Firsts (my review), Second Helpings (my review)
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Jane was right about one thing: Marcus's t-shirts were a shtick. But so is everything we do when we exercise the free will that Kieran held so dear. And we're all guilty. We convince ourselves that these choices declare WHO WE ARE to the world, and we hope that others--or just one person--will see these on-the-surface signs and somehow, suddenly understand WHO WE ARE down to the depths of our souls.But the cruel reality is that these choices serve a different purpose altogether. They act as cheery distractions from the only tragic Truth-with-a-capital-T that matters:
We all die alone.
I'm in a very bad place, indeed.
Jessica Darling has finally graduated high school and moved on to the start of a bigger, better life at Columbia University in New York City. But in typical Jessica Darling-fashion, nothing works out quite the way she anticipated. Her college best friends cannot fill the Hope-shaped friendship hole. She and Marcus are dating, but things are complicated...from more factors than simply the fact that he attends school all the way on the West Coast. She's not sure if she actually likes her school environment, full of over-achievers who all seem to have a better idea of what they want out of their lives than she does. And none of these problems go away whenever she returns home on break, where complicated family dynamics add another layer to the worries piled up on Jessica's plate.
Charmed Thirds is once again an epistolary novel told through Jessica's journal entries, this time during her college years. I haven't read enough books about college students, so the premise really excited me. Unfortunately, however, Jessica does not actually keep a diary during the school year; instead, readers really only witness what happens during her breaks from school. I found this to be a frustrating technique, because the instead of focusing on the transformational aspects of college, the Jessica that readers see is one who is primarily back at home during school breaks. Sure, there are comments here and there how Jessica isn't quite the same girl who left Pineville for New York City, but by and large I felt like she was. Pineville is a rather toxic place for Jessica, and by focusing primarily on her vacations back there, in some ways it's like the toxicity that caused Jessica to want to leave for New York in the first place has never truly left her.
Oh, Jessica. No other character possesses the ability you have to make me run a gauntlet of emotions quite so thoroughly. I read Charmed Thirds alternating primarily between empathy and frustration and, let me tell you, I had a hard time reconciling both of those feelings.
Firstly, I really empathized with a lot of what Jessica is going through. College is such a confusing time, as young adults are being told that now is the time for them to unequivocally decide what they want to do with their lives. I've been there - still am there, actually - and it's not easy. More so than high school or life pre-college in general, college opens up a plethora of decisions that will affect one's future. Jessica decides to major in psychology because she wants to learn about human actions and behavior, yet over the course of the novel she comes to realize that perhaps she doesn't want to get a graduate degree and become a psychologist. She spends her summers performing a variety of jobs, from working yet again on the boardwalk, to participating in a school project, to interning for a magazine, and doesn't truly enjoy any of them. From career to romance to personal desires, Jessica fixates on the fact that she doesn't know what she wants out of her life. And that's okay; she doesn't have to.
What's a little more difficult for me as the reader to reconcile is the tendency that Jessica has to make one bad decision after another. Her missteps in the romance department are more easily forgivable than her continued lack of understanding with how to treat her friends and family. I am happy to note, however, that Jessica makes dramatic strides in improving her family relationships, especially with her mother and sister. If only the same can be said for her effort in school- and career-related choices. There's a big difference between truly making an effort in something before determining you don't like it, and trying something out halfheartedly before deciding you don't want to continue trying. Jessica toed that divide just a little too often for my tastes.
What I really appreciated in this novel was the unflinching honesty it presented of the college dilemma. Jessica's trap of choosing a degree she'd enjoy learning about, without necessarily thinking about how it can translate to a job, is an all-too-common phenomena. As is the tension present upon returning home and seeing old faces. Although I do wish that readers were privy to more of Jessica's college experiences as a whole, I think McCafferty's portrayal of the effects college has upon students is realistic and well done.
There were certainly some pitfalls in Charmed Thirds: many more than in the first two, to be honest. But this still proved to be a fast and entertaining read nonetheless. At this point, I honestly don't know what to expect from the final two Jessica Darling installments. I think I'm okay with that, though, because I know that the experience of watching Jessica grow from a teen to an adult will be worth it, whatever path she chooses to take. I have faith in you, Jessica. Now please gain some faith in yourself.
Rating: 2.5 stars