Thursday, July 16, 2020

Book 242: Sloppy Firsts

"I told my parents not to even dare throwing me a Sweet Sixteen party. The very thought of ice-cream cake and pink crepe paper makes me want to hurl. Not to mention the fact that I can’t even imagine who would be on the guest list since I hate all my other friends. I know my parents think I’m being ridiculous. But if the one person I want to be there can’t be there, I’d rather just stay home. And mope. Or sleep." 

Dates read: June 16-19, 2018

Rating: 7/10

I have to admit I'm a little jealous of today's bookish teenagers. The absolute explosion in the number of books targeted toward young adults, which seemed to start to grow in the wake of Harry Potter and then skyrocket after The Hunger Games, means that they have so many books meant to appeal to them to chose from! I remember the YA section of the library when I was growing up having a lot of Sweet Valley High, and Fear Street, and Louise Duncan (all of which I read, of course) and not a ton else, so I started reading more adult literary fiction early. As much as that's been a good thing for me, by and large, I wish I'd gotten to experience the kind of peak YA that seems to be happening now.

Since I did like to read quality YA when I got my hands on it, I'm astonished that I managed to miss Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts until now! The first in a five-book series, it focuses on New Jersey teenager Jessica Darling, deeply miserable now that her best friend Hope has moved away. Jessica's left with the rest of her honors-classes friend group, none of whom she actually likes very much and who she refers to as the Clueless Crew in her head. Her dad drives her crazy trying to home coach her through track, and her mother and older sister Bethany are too wrapped up in planning Bethany's wedding to pay Jessica too much mind (not that she wants them to anyways). She's nursing a desperate crush on a senior who probably doesn't even know she exists. How is a girl to deal with her sophomore year in high school like this?

With snark, of course. She writes to Hope every month, filling her in on all the new drama...the girl from Manhattan who moves to town but isn't quite who she seems to be, the pressure she feels to date a guy friend that she doesn't like that way just to have a boyfriend, how torn she feels when she finds out someone's boyfriend is cheating on her but she's supposed to keep it secret. What Jessica doesn't tell Hope about is the growing connection she has with Marcus Flutie, who'd been best friends and drug buddies with Hope's brother before his death by overdose prompted Hope's family to leave town. The closer Jessica and Marcus get, the worse she feels about hiding it from Hope, and the more confused she is by what she wants out of it at all. Add in the family conflicts and it's no wonder Jessica's overwhelmed.

Jessica is the kind of character I would have loved as a teenager, and looking back someone who reminds me of myself at that age. She's smart enough to know that she should buy into "the game" if she wants to fit in more (not to mention please her mother), but too stubborn to actually do it. She wants desperately to feel understood even though she doesn't even really understand herself. She feels trapped in high school, but the taste of the more adult world she gets working at the Shore during the summer doesn't exactly thrill her. The life McCafferty gives her, and the issues she presents her with, feel pitch-perfect for a sixteen year-old in the year 2000, which, given that I was myself just a year or two younger, also took me back on a wave of nostalgia. I was worried I would be a little too old for this book at literally twice the age of the main character, but I was completely charmed.

I wonder if the cultural references, which hit home for me, will read as hopelessly dated to today's teens. They probably do, but we all have easy access to Google these days so I won't let that stop me from giving a wholehearted recommendation, for adults both young and well, not-young, and particularly of the lady variety (though don't think there's any reason a guy couldn't enjoy this, let's be real, it's written for a female audience). It's easy to read, written with wit and verve, but doesn't shy away from the heavier issues that high schoolers deal with, like sex and drugs. It neither treats these with kid gloves like Very Special Episodes nor glosses over them entirely, but presents them as just very much a part of life about which decisions need to be made. If the interior lives of teenage girls aren't compelling to you for whatever reason, this likely won't be for you. Otherwise, though, it's an enjoyable read!

One year ago, I was reading: The Man in the High Castle (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: My Own Words

Three years ago, I was reading: Crazy Rich Asians

Four years ago, I was reading: The Shipping News

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