OK, I wasn't going to seek it out -- really. Yeah, maybe I did look Megan McCafferty up in the online catalog Monday night, just to see what the next book in the Jessica Darling series was called (it's Second Helpings, if you're wondering) -- but when my local branch didn't have a copy, I thought that was that. And then, right there in my face as I stood in the self-checkout line, as if to tempt me -- bam! There it was. Not Second Helpings, but the fifth in the series -- appropriately titled Perfect Fifths (Crown Publishers, 2009). So, I decided it was fate, brought it home (when, oh when, will I learn that just because I can cram 13 books into a backpack doesn't mean I should, especially when the walk home is half a mile uphill?) ... and well, Mrhazel was out for a weekly guy thing last night, and it kept me off the streets.
Sadly, that's about all I can say for this one. Again, I may read 2 through 4 if the opportunity presents itself (really, I can stop any time I want to), just to see exactly where the series jumps the shark ... but given how much I enjoyed Sloppy Firsts, this one was really underwhelming. By this time, our heroine, the aforementioned Jessica Darling, is a successful professional in her early 20s, making a living and even a bit of a name for herself traveling to schools all over the country to mentor at-risk teens through writing courses. The entire novel takes place in and around an unnamed airport (I think it's one of New York City's, but having grown up in its shadow, that's always what I picture when I hear or read "big city"), where Jessica's desperately trying to catch a flight to St. Thomas for the wedding of two old high school friends. She's running at top speed to the gate as the PA system announces a final boarding call with her name on it, when -- what a coinky-dink -- she runs smack into ex-boyfriend Marcus Flutie (leading the reader like me who skipped the middle 3 books to conclude that the 2 must have gotten together and then broken up somewhere in there). While they exchange only a quick "hi, gotta run, call me," it's enough to make her miss her flight. They end up in a bar and eventually getting a hotel room (just to talk, nach -- Jessica makes it perfectly clear from the get-go that there will be no hanky-panky whatsoever, TYVM) to catch up on old times.
The book was disappointing on several fronts. I always try to judge sequels by how well they stand on their own, apart from the original ... and this one really doesn't. The glimpses of Jessica's work are mildly interesting, but we don't see enough of them, and what's there seems mainly to be thrown in to explain part of the main plot. The bulk of the story is the awkward, "so, how have you been?" conversation between any 2 old friends that seems to go on for way too long, and frankly, it's not any more interesting in a novel than it tends to be in real life.
Moreover, the original Beverly Hills 90210 notwithstanding, it's just plain not plausible that almost all the principals from Sloppy Firsts are still so neatly tied up with all their old high school friends. I'll allow the lingering sparks between Jessica and Marcus; the whole "reuniting with your first love, the One Who Got Away, has been done, sure, but it's got somewhat of a classic feel to it. I'll even buy that Hope (who must have moved back from TN to NJ some time after the first book) is still Jessica's BFF. But beyond that, c'mon, now -- doesn't anyone grow up or meet new people after high school? Apparently not. Our old nemesis Hy (nee Cinthia) Wallace is back, still a hipster trustafarian, and now Jessica's benefactress; the wedding Jess is trying to get to is that of former Pineville beauty queen Bridget and unrequited crush-bearer Percy; and oh, did I mention that gossipy rich girl Sara and jock-next-door Scotty are not only married, but the proud parents of 3?
Probably my biggest gripe about Perfect Fifths, though, is that it doesn't break any new ground. With Sloppy Firsts, I almost bought the Wall Street Journal accolade quoted on the back cover, about McCafferty being Judy Blume meets Dorothy Parker. Certainly she's not the first author to have written about the outsider and/or the minutae that are the stuff of so much drama in high school ... but she did it pretty well, and in a voice that was reasonably fresh and authentic. Here though, meh -- not so much. If S1st wasn't groundbreaking, the field of books about bright-eyed 20somethings in the Big City is much more crowded ... and the quirky, cynical tone not nearly so endearing. One can only hope, for the undisciplined trainwreck fans among us, that there isn't a Still Staler Sixths in the works. (Must. Resist.)
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.