October 3, 2007

Fourth Comings

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Jessica Darling, Megan McCafferty’s quick-witted but “Not-so-Darling” heroine first stumbled onto the stage in Sloppy Firsts published in 2001. Since her introduction as a seemingly cynical but humorous high schooler Jess has become one of the most unforgettable and fascinating characters in modern coming of age stories. In honest and engrossing journal-style writing, Jess confesses both the usual and unusual angst of her teenage years. The blend of humor, uncertainty, drama, and a little romance make McCafferty’s writing easy to relate to and her playful style is addictive to read. Through Second Helpings and Charmed Thirds, Jess seems more like a close and highly entertaining friend than a character. When Jess’ best friend Hope moves away at the beginning of the series, readers feel her loneliness. When she cracks under the strain of her father’s overbearing presence, readers feel her distress and confusion. When she embarks on adventures with the mysterious Marcus Flutie readers feel her excitement. But, when Jess fills the pages of her journal in the latest installment in the series Fourth Comings, readers are left wondering what exactly has happened to the character they know and love.
The basic style of Fourth Comings is very different than McCafferty’s other novels. Each of the first three books covers two to four years of Jess’ life. There are often gaps in the entries, lending the books a realistic, writing-on-the-fly feel. In Fourth Comings however, the novel spans only a week in Jess’ life. Although it’s a very important week for Jess, the concentration and intensity of events in just seven days is too enormous to be believable. Beginning with an unexpected proposal from her long-time love interest, to trust problems with her best friend, disastrous job interviews, and family emergencies, Jess’ week leaves readers struggling to suspend their disbelief.
At 23 and living in New York City, readers expect a more grounded and mature heroine. Instead, Jess seems to be coming undone more than ever before. In an effort to include colorful characters from past novels, McCafferty depicts Jess’s social circle as a mere extension of her high school friends and enemies. Instead of forgetting the people she was so eager to escape in her high school days, Jess is rooming with Manda (one of the “Bubble-gum Bimbos” from her hometown) and dating her high school love interest. With all of these carryovers from adolescence, it’s no wonder that Jess dramatizes her issues as much as any sixth grader.
Not all the changes in Forth Comings are negative, however. In this book, Jess is writing to Marcus instead of just to herself. The shift in audience makes the book more purposeful and is fitting in light of Marcus’ proposal. Despite the changes in McCafferty’s premise and approach, Fourth Comings is still an addictive read. It’s hard not to get drawn into Jess’ life. Her misadventures and hallmark “SNARKY” style are prevailing high points in the novel. With word of a fifth book in the works we can only hope that both Jess and McCafferty can get their acts together in time for the next chapter of Jess’ life.