Jessica Darling’ IT List by Megan McCafferty. Little, Brown, and Company, 2013. Currently available.
Age Level & Genre: Middle grade realistic fiction.
Face Value: Can we talk about the pink problem that’s happening here? It’s bad. Jessica’s dressed in her trying-to-fit-in clothes rather than the vintage band tees she grows to love in the book. I’m disappointed in this cover because the whole point of a Jessica Darling book is that it is a literary haven for girl readers who aren’t girly frou-frou types. Jessica Darling is the character that you can love when you don’t feel like other characters speak to you. I wish the cover would reflect that. Also, she’s headless. Boo.
Does it break the slate? Easy answer: of course. Jessica Darling was a Slatebreaker as soon as she could walk and talk. (Speaking of which: do you think Megan McCafferty would go for a JD picture book series? It would be amazing. Imagine the Jessica Darling story hours at the library. That’s programming perfection.) What’s beautiful about this book is that Jessica’s trademark independence and persistence emerge during one of the most trying times in the formation of a person’s identity: the beginning of junior high.
Who would we give it to? This is another perfect back-to-school book, especially for those kids making the transition from elementary to middle school.
Review: Our beloved Slatebreaker All Star Jessica Darling is back! This time, she is on the brink of adolescence and about to start junior high. The best thing about another Jessica Darling book is the return of her deliciously snarky narrative tone. Readers will notice that McCafferty has taken a different approach to writing Jessica’s inner thoughts in this book. The tone is more hopeful, and ever so slightly more naïve than in the other books. At first I missed Jessica’s cynicism. Then it occurred to me that McCafferty was making a smart writing choice. It makes sense that Jessica would start junior high with some excitement about the future. She still has her best friend from elementary school close by her side. She still looks up to her sister Bethany as the pinnacle of social perfection. She still kind of likes her parents. I admire how McCafferty has turned back the clock to show us Jessica’s world before the challenges of adolescence change everything.
Because Jessica Darling’s high school and college years are firmly set in the early 2000s, that means that her junior high years took place in the 1990s. There’s no Facebook to affect social interactions among pre-teen friends. Personal cell phones and texting are not really a part of the everyday lives of Jessica and her friends. It gives the book the aura of historical fiction, because Jessica’s junior high life is different from what someone would experience today. And it wouldn’t even be junior high anymore. It would be middle school. I loved the setting because Jessica Darling’s character timeline is on par with my personal experience. I went to junior high the same time that Jessica did, so everything was familiar to me. It occurred to me that an actual ‘middle grade’ aged reader might have a different impression of the book than I did. So, for all the parents and teachers out there – what have the young readers you know thought of this book?
Jessica is just as graceless in junior high as she is in high school. It is terribly fun to read about her mishaps. There is an encounter with a male goose that had me belly laughing so hard I had to set down the book. Yet despite the moments of awkwardness, Jessica emerges with an understanding of her developing identity that far surpasses her peers. Here’s my favorite passage from the book, which demonstrates just how smart Jessica is at figuring out the intricacies of being yourself:
“I’m not a loser! Okay, so I’m not a fashion diva cheerleader with the hottest boyfriend and the coolest clique. I’m not the most popular, the prettiest, or anywhere near achieving perfection. And despite my total failure to make good on any of Bethany’s rules, and the fact that my best friend was maybe not my best friend anymore, I’m way more happy than not happy about seventh grade so far. Doesn’t that satisfaction count for something? If not everything?”
Someone needs make a poster of this passage and put it in every middle school in the United States.
The book ends with a clear lead-in to an IT List sequel. I often get grumpy when books are constructed so clearly with a sequel in mind because it feels like a gimmick. I’m not so mad about this one because I want to read more about junior high Jessica. Also, Marcus Flutie has been introduced and I MUST KNOW MORE about what Marcus Flutie was like in junior high. Somehow, even with the very chaste junior high setting, the heat rises when Marcus shows up. McCafferty is building the foundation for one of the hottest romances in YA and it is awesome.
Do not fear, Jessica Darling lovers. The series has been strengthened with the addition of Jessica’s junior high experiences. If you know a young reader entering middle school, think about how fun it will be to get her started on Jessica Darling now and gradually introduce her to the other books as she grows older. Jessica Darling is a gift that keeps on giving. And now I’m off to re-read the rest of the Jessica Darling books because I’m falling in love with her all over again.
Reviewed from a copy purchased at Fireside Books in West Bend, WI.