Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty
Series: Jessica Darling, #5
Published: 2009, Crown
Format: Hardcover, 258 pages
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Borrowed from library
Contains spoilers for Sloppy Firsts (my review), Second Helpings (my review), Charmed Thirds (my review), Fourth Comings (my review)
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Gone for a while
Hoping, always, to return
If you will let me
Now that the end has finally come, I'm a bit in denial about it all. While readers now have the opportunity to read about Jessica Darling's pre-teen years in the Jessica Darling's It List series, it looks like Perfect Fifths is the end of the road for Jessica's adult life. And maybe that's a good thing. In some ways, the series started dying (or at least going in a way different direction) after Jessica graduated high school. There are highlights and great moments peppered in the third, fourth, and fifth books but the transition from high school is a difficult one to record in any medium, not just books. I like that even by the end of Perfect Fifths, Jessica is not a perfect character and still questions what she wants out of her life, albeit with slightly more of a direction.
Twenty-six-year-old Jessica Darling is tired. She still lives with her best friend Hope in Brooklyn, but her job as a literacy/writing mentor for various high school students requires her to be on the road for much of the year. Mentoring, however, has also given Jessica a sense of purpose and she's started setting up plans for her next career move. It is because of her job and the connections she's made with some of her mentees that Jessica finds herself late for her flight out of Newark airport. Her good friends Bridget and Percy are getting married in St. Thomas the following day and now it appears that Jessica will not be there in time to celebrate.
But it's also in Newark airport that Jessica (literally) bumps into a reminder of her past: Marcus Flutie. Marcus is returning to his final semester at Princeton after spending a few weeks of winter vacation rebuilding houses in New Orleans. This chance meeting brings up thoughts and topics that neither have discussed for years, but, over the course of the day, their meeting seems less and less like a chance encounter and more like it was meant to be.
The most major change is the style in which this book is written. No longer are readers (and one Marcus Flutie) privy to all of Jessica's internal thoughts and conflicts via dairy entries. Instead, McCafferty makes the bold choice of telling this story in alternating first-person present between Jessica and Marcus. On the one hand, I can completely understand the need to change the literal format of the book: during her high school years, Jessica journaled as a way to maintain her sanity in a town/school where no one seemed to understand her once her best friend moved away. During college, Jessica journaled infrequently, and primarily about things and people related to her high-school life. A few months after graduating, Jessica spent a week recording the current events of her life and her state of mind for her boyfriend Marcus. Now Jessica is presumably too busy to write in a journal. Not only that, but the current events in her life seem not to inspire that desire in her.
And that's fine. I think it makes sense that Jessica would have given up journaling. My main complaint is the writing style that McCafferty chooses to use: first-person present. I have made it no secret how much it annoys me to read a book written in this tense. Not to mention it's just confusing and it doesn't make sense that this story needs to be told with this degree of immediacy. And not only that, but I found the dual narrative strange and unnecessary. Marcus Flutie has always been an important fixture within the series, of course, but it's one thing for him to be one of the centers of attention and quite another to now hear half the story from his point of view. It felt a little like maybe McCafferty was placating her fans who demanded more Marcus after him being in mind but out of sight for the majority of the past two installments. Marcus' voice was interesting, but not particularly revelatory.
I thought the time span for Fourth Comings was short (a little over a week), but this wins by far. This story takes place over about twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours low on in-the-moment action but high on flashbacks. Perfect Fifths gives the sense that everything is, in fact, coming full-circle. Jessica believes she's found her purpose in life mentoring high school girls and encouraging them to use writing to express themselves. There are mentions of those who have been important parts of her life, friends and family alike, even if none actually make an appearance in this book. At its core, Perfect Fifths seems to be about Jessica and Marcus and their "resolution in irresolution" (not a quote from the book, but it seems applicable).
Perfect Fifths does not quite contain the luster and excitement present in previous installments. The short physical amount of time spent with an isolated Jessica and Marcus is nice, but really just too brief. It's almost as if Jessica has not only outgrown her journaling habits, but my interest as a reader (not completely, but to some degree). But it was good to see Jessica one final time, and the ambiguous ending is fine with me (because then I can let my inner Jessica-Marcus shipper believe that after going through so many challenges over the past ten years and then reuniting the way they did, nothing will ever be able to come in between these two again). And I definitely do not regret the experience of watching Jessica grow and learn over the course of this series.
Rating: 2.5 stars