Charmed Thirds (Jessica Darling Novels)

Charmed Thirds - Megan McCafferty Against all expectations, I am smitten with the Jessica Darling series. The series is probably considered “chick-lit” by most (a term I detest due to the gendered notions of literature it evokes but that I’m using due to its popularity). But while it’s ostensibly chick-lit, there are no treatises on shopping or one-night stands. It is not brainless and vapid. Instead, it flips the chick-lit tropes. It’s actually about a girl trying to find herself in a world that wants nothing more than for her to be a vapid chick.In Charmed Thirds Jessica goes to college. But her college experience is not the “wooo hoooo let’s get drunk and have the best four years of our lives” experience. In fact, most of her time at college is uncovered. McCafferty has chosen to record these four years only during Jessica’s winter and summer breaks, thankfully leaving the drudge work of college to our imaginations. What I love about Charmed Thirds is that it does not sugarcoat college. Instead it captures the uncertainty of the American college experience. It is full of malaise and the endless worries of millenials such as “What will I do?” And “Will I be good enough?” It sounds depressing, and it very occasionally is, but Jessica’s charming voice carried me through the story. Jessica is straight-up hilarious. I laughed at loud at some of her predicaments and groaned at some of the others. Her hyperaware, overdescriptive style will be appreciated by any young neurotic. I also sympathized with her relationship with Marcus. Their relationship is a cornerstone of the series, and my oh my, in this book, it becomes even more deliciously complex. Marcus is a delectable creature in the sphere of YA boys, though his entire appeal is the fact that he resembles his fellow YA love interests in no way. Sometimes I wanted to reach into the pages and shake Marcus because he’s so frustrating. But while Marcus is difficult to understand sometimes, he really loves Jessica and his witticisms keep the relationship interesting. Often authors who torture their characters before finally uniting them in love struggle to keep the relationship interesting after all the angst dies. Luckily, Megan McCafferty is not all authors. She shows how college breaks relationships. She shows how even two well-matched individuals can treat each other poorly. With Marcus and Jessica she’s created a messy, imperfect relationship that is brutally honest. I also like the irony of Jessica’s situation in this book. Jessica, who spends so much time judging people for their seemingly incomprehensible relationships, finds herself in a relationship that is occasionally incomprehensible to her and largely incomprehensible to everyone else. But she loves Marcus and the relationship works for her. And that’s all that matters.Honestly the audience for these books might be small. There’s not much escapism here. Jessica’s life kinda sucks. Others might dislike Jessica for being overanalytical and cynical and thus incapable of happiness. But there is a small sliver of young women, including me of course, who will see themselves in Jessica. And in a time when it seems like you don’t know anything—about your career, friends, love life, who you are—her plights will be a source of comfort.