August 2, 2013

Review: Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

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)
· Amazon · Barnes & Noble

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
author image


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. Aww, I'm sorry this didn't work out as well for you. I think the reason this is one of my favorites in the series - right after Fourth Comings, actually - is because of all Jessica's mistakes. Of course I hated reading about them, but by the end everything really tied together so well and I feel as if Jessica simply grew and learned so much from her experiences. Wonderful review, though, Amanda, and I hope the next JD installment works out better for you!

    1. Oh I didn't mind her mistakes. I mean, they weren't great, but at least they were understandable. My main complaint was definitely the formatting of this novel. Maybe my perspective is slightly different than yours, but since I have experienced college and seen what an important and transformative time it is in a person's life, I was really bothered that basically none of the book actually took place during Jessica's time in college. And no worries - I loved the fourth one. :)

  2. I can't believe that you have read these books before me! I only say that b/c I know that contemporaries are not really your passion. I really need to read these books, but 5 novels focused on the same girl freaks me out. I'm not sure how I'll take JD, but I've heard that she is sympathetic despite her flaws. Glad that you found good in this one despite the issues you had! Eager to find out your opinion on books 4 and 5.

    1. Three words for you: Summer Series Challenge. :) Seriously, that's the main reason I ended up powering through this series. It is great fun, though, and highly recommend the series as a whole. Although fantasy will always be my favorite genre (high fantasy my favorite subgenre), sometimes those can feel a little...dense. I love how much thinking they require and all, but I don't always want that in a book, especially right now when I have lots of other things to do.

  3. I have read books with college-aged protags, but never books that take place at college with the MC having to deal with college type issues. And that's kind of sad! I know I would really like to; it is what I'm going through after all. So this type of story would really excite me, as well... too bad it didn't take more advantage of the life in college issues. I'm getting the impression that people LOVE the first Jessica Darling book and then progressively become less and less involved in the series as it goes on, which is too bad. I would still be interesting in your thoughts of the other books, if you're still going to review them. I would like to meet Jessica... even if her character becomes more and more frustrating with every book. Anyways, thanks for the review - very thoughtful and enlightening! I really want to try out this series sometime.

  4. I know what you mean about this book, it was definitely the most challenging of the 3 JD books I have read. I had such a high after reading Second Helpings--I was on a Jessica and Marcus high --that Charmed Thirds was probably doomed to fall short anyway.

    I know exactly what you mean about having issues with the way this book is laid out. We have bks 1 and 2 roughly chronicling the final two years of Jessica's high school experience, and then her entire college experience is rolled up into one book in Charmed Thirds? I didn't enjoy the pacing, it felt off, and I was always wondering why we weren't hearing more about JD's college life. Gosh, college is where Jessica has longed to be, away from all the petty crap of high school. And even though she discovered things weren't all that different when she finally gets there, it would have been nice to have more form that period of her life.

    I admit I have been putting off Fourth Comings for quite a while. I just struggled so much w/ Charmed Thirds, I almost have to psych myself up to read the next installment. But I have heard nothing but AMAZING things about the final book so I know that eventually I will get there.

    Fantastic review! I feel much the same:)


Thank you for taking the time to comment! I strive to make my blog the very best it can possibly be and I appreciate each and every comment on here.