Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Three Rivers
Release Date: April 22nd, 2003
Jessica Darling is up in arms again in this much-anticipated, hilarious sequel to Sloppy Firsts. This time, the hyperobservant, angst-ridden teenager is going through the social and emotional ordeal of her senior year at Pineville High. Not only does the mysterious and oh-so-compelling Marcus Flutie continue to distract Jessica, but her best friend, Hope, still lives in another state, and she can’t seem to escape the clutches of the Clueless Crew, her annoying so-called friends. To top it off, Jessica’s parents won’t get off her butt about choosing a college, and her sister Bethany’s pregnancy is causing a big stir in the Darling household.
Total, utter perfection.
If I had Jessica Darling’s way with words, I could probably come up with pages upon pages of praise delivered with wit and irreverence. But sadly I lack her talent, so I’m going to have to settle with telling my account of a book so wonderful and hope it doesn’t come across totally pedestrian.
With her usual bluntness and candor, Jessica reflects on her final two years of high school. Hope is still away in Tennessee and college applications breathing down her neck, Jessica feels more alone than ever, forced to deal with unrelenting Pineville life by herself. But things look a little better when Jessica gets herself a geek-cute boyfriend with a brain to match hers. Equipped with her black-and-white speckled journal and her first real relationship, Jessica might finally be able to forget about the enigmatic Marcus Flutie.
Everything that was left suspended in the first novel comes full-circle in Second Helpings. Jessica comes to terms with life without her soulmate and best friend Hope with her usual cocktail of candor and snark. Facing a whole new phase of her life- being in a relationship- she learns more about herself and her feelings, never compensating humor.
But even further than that, the rest of the characters are brought to light as well. The first novel orbits around Jessica and Marcus and their pseudorelationship, but this one discusses the supporting characters with more depth than its prequel. True to their roles, majority of the characters remain their flat, clueless selves, but they develop in a way that you see more of them and get to know them better. There are some exceptions, of course, who break out of the molds set for them in Sloppy Firsts and emerge as completely new people.
Marcus falls somewhere in between both of the categories. The catalyst for most of Jessica’s emotions- be it happiness, confusion, angst and everything else in between- in the first novel, he’s a mystery with the answer wrapped up within him, an open book albeit one in a completely foreign language, inscribed with a lexicon entirely his. But like any language, you begin to understand it as you read or hear more of it, though you never quite grasp its intricacies. Marcus, his character as well as his intentions, surfaces and transcends his riddle of an outer shell, but you don’t fully understand him as well. He’s not so much an abstract anymore, his true self more apparent, but still vague and distorted like an impressionist painting as opposed to a razor-sharp photograph. And in this respect, he becomes even more compelling than he was before, a montage of honesty and mystery.
A true beauty that shines so bright it upstages its predecessor, Second Helpings closes Jessica’s high school life with flourish and sass. I’m sort of hesitant to read the following novels because this one is already so perfect and ends on a high note that it feels like there’s nowhere else to go but down, but I’m taking the risk and keeping my fingers crossed that McCafferty pleasantly surprises me as she did with this one. Funny, romantic and real, and it gives a sufficient, heart-racing closure to the Jessica-Marcus tandem but leaves just enough room for more to take place. An ellipsis in nature, but a bold red exclamation point to me.