Review: Sloppy Firsts

Review: Sloppy FirstsSloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Series: Jessica Darling #1
Published by Broadway Books on August 28, 2001
Genres: Contemporary, Humor, Romance
Pages: 298
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
five-stars

“My parents suck ass. Banning me from the phone and restricting my computer privileges are the most tyrannical parental gestures I can think of. Don’t they realize that Hope’s the only one who keeps me sane? . . . I don’t see how things could get any worse.”

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling fiction debut by first-time novelist Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment--from the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “Dreg” who works his way into her heart. Like a John Hughes for the twenty-first century, Megan McCafferty taps into the inherent humor and drama of the teen experience. This poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.

First Sentence: “Hope, I guess your move wasn’t a sign of the Y2K teen angst apocalypse after all.”

Review:
When I was a teen a did very little reading of books from the teen section, which I now inhabit on a regular basis, because I like to do the unexpected. Anyway, one of the exceptions I made was Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, which I remember totally loving. Also, I remember being disappointed by the sequel (or sequels, as I really do not remember how far I read). Having reread this, I commend my younger self for liking this one, but I am unsurprised that my love was short-lived, because I liked happy, escapist reads and this is not that.

Oddly, I do not remember this book having a profound impact on my teen self, which is ridiculous, because Jessica Darling is a heroine I relate to even now, in my dotage. She’s intelligent, way more studious than I ever was. She uses her intelligence to be a smart-ass and to over-think everything (hey, soul sister!). I love the way she thinks about everything, because the way she delves into minor details and thinks herself into an endless cycle of worry is completely identifiable. Her constant mental whirlwind reminds me a lot of the Ruby Oliver books by E. Lockhart, though those are a bit on the lighter side tone-wise.

The writing is pitch perfect, capturing the personality of Jessica Darling. Her mental landscape is a very familiar place, and it’s frankly terrifying how much I still identify with so far as her insecurities go. Those easily offended by swearing or the use of terms like ‘ho’ or ‘hoochie’ will probably be offended by a lot of what Jessica writes in her journal, but McCafferty’s not making a statement with those things. This is how a lot of teens talk and think, and she uses these words not to be shocking but to be real. I love watching Jessica evolve throughout, working through things and changing opinions she previously held based on new information.

As with many contemporary teen novels, Sloppy Firsts focuses on popularity and friendship in high school. Jessica’s best friend, Hope, has moved away, leaving her to navigate the social minefield of high school alone. Now, Jessica’s actually in a pretty popular crowd, but she does not feel any less alone, because, really, she hates their guts. If she left she would have no one, and she’s not brave enough for that (and, honey, let me tell you, not having friends is worse). Where most stories would be about embracing your true self and finding perfect happiness as a result, a group of kindred spirits appearing to embrace you, Sloppy Firsts isn’t. The themes of being true to yourself are, but sometimes your kindred spirit moved away or just doesn’t exist, and it’s sad but true. However, she does find that maybe things aren’t so bad as she thought they were, too, in that she can be more connected, even if the people here aren’t Hope.

Romantic relationships and sex are also a huge part of the novel. Most of Jessica’s ‘friends’ are very sexually active, whether they’ve done the deed or not. Jessica has had just one (really gross) kiss. Teen sex lives are very openly discussed, and I love McCafferty’s frank attitude towards this topic. I’m especially impressed since the book came out in 2000, not in the more permissive current YA landscape. Way to go, McCafferty.

The Darling parents receive quite a bit of focus as well. They are present parents, but highly flawed ones. Due to the death of her brother from SIDS before her birth, they’re both emotionally damaged. Her mother spends all of her energy planning Bethany’s (Jess’ much older sister) wedding. Jess’ father only cares about her as an athlete, raising her like the son he didn’t get to keep. Jessica struggles with her parents’ treatment of her, feeling inferior both to the living and departed sibling. Their familial relationships ache with honesty and miscommunication, as well as naturally disparate personalities.

Marcus Flutie. If you mention this book to anyone who’s read it, their first response will invariably be something like this, “MARCUS FLUTIE!!!! WAZZAHHHHH!” Now, I remembered Marcus Flutie vaguely. Basically, I recalled that he eventually becomes the love interest, but that’s about it. Imagine my surprise when he’s a drug-doing guy with dreads. That threw some serious cold water on my memory. If the book has any weakness at all (a point I’m undecided on, so I’m going for the full rating because this book is really good), it’s how quickly Jessica becomes obsessed with Marcus when he’s Krispy Kreme, when there’s no way I could crush on a guy like that. However, I am not Jessica, and she lives her life in fantasies, so, on a lot of levels, that really makes sense. He pays attention to her, even an irritating non-flattering sort of attention, when she feels incredibly alone. Thankfully, Marcus does evolve as a character, because he’s super icky at first. I’m not fully sold on him yet, but I am desperate to find out what happens next because that ending was mean.

You’ve probably heard of the Jessica Darling books by now, but, if you haven’t, I highly recommend giving them a try. Sloppy Firsts is daring, funny, sad, thought-provoking, and unflinchingly honest. If you enjoy E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver books, you most definitely need to read Megan McCafferty.

Favorite Quote:

“Right now I feel guilty to be alive. Why? Because I’m wasting it. I’ve been given this life and all I do is mope it away.
What’s worse is, I am totally aware of how ridiculous I am. It would be a lot easier if I believed I was the center of the universe, because then I wouldn’t know any better not to make a big deal out of everything. I know how small my problems, are, yet that doesn’t stop me from obsessing about them.
I have to stop doing this.
How do other people get happy? I look at people laughing and smiling and enjoying themselves and try to get inside their heads. How do Bridget, Manda, and Sara do it? Or Pepe? Or everyone but me?
Why does everything I see bother me? Why can’t I just get over these daily wrongdoings? Why can’t I just move on and make the best of what I’ve got?
I wish I knew.”

21 responses to “Review: Sloppy Firsts”

  1. I have heard of the Jessica Darling series, and haven’t read the Ruby Oliver books, though I did see your reviews on them, but! Seeing your review of this book makes me think that I should move this series up in my TBR pile. It makes me happy when a book/author decides not to shy away from difficult topics like sex, and Marcus Flutie sounds a bit ridiculous but also intriguing. Hrmm…

    • Christina says:

      You should move these up! Well, I’ve only reread this one, but I just ordered the whole series from the library. *spins*

      Marcus is a bit ridiculous, and, as I said, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about him. BUT I am ready to find out. Besides, teen boys = kind of ridiculous. At least he’s not like every other dude in YA.

  2. OH yay this one lived up to your memory of it. That’s so good, I am always scared to do re reads of books that I loved in case they don’t live up to my memory of them and then I will be ruined!

    I had thought that this was one of those happy happy contemporaries but am happy to see that’s not the case. I’ll be adding this one to my TBR. I like that the love interest doesn’t sound like a typical love interest at all and the he evolves quite a bit.

    • Christina says:

      There’s always that fear, yes, but I wasn’t too concerned here, since this really wasn’t my genre back then but totes is now. Definitely not happy happy. You will LOVE it!

  3. Wow, you sure churn out your reviews fast!

    I HAVE indeed heard of both this and the Ruby Oliver series but never got down to reading them, oops. And I really should start soon, considering I even bought Sloppy Firsts a while back. Weirdly enough, this book somehow never really struck me as a YA novel and I think I only found out that it is indeed a YA novel just recently. Excited to start soon seeing that you gave it five stars!

    • Christina says:

      Ha, that’s my little secret.

      You very much should. It’s funny that you mention that. The publisher for this edition isn’t YA. Also, the book may be 300 pages, but they’re LONG pages. Printed like Divergent, it would probably be 5 or 600. Maybe it wasn’t published as YA at the time, thus why it could be so open. I don’t really know.

    • Yeah, I think at that point of time, they probably didn’t want to classify it under YA so they can probably hit up the massive chick lit market. Afterall, even up till today, the YA market is still not very desirable if you want to market beyond teenagers.

      The book that I own is actually pretty thing though.
      Darn. So misleading!

    • *thin
      My brain is clearly not functioning well.

    • Christina says:

      Ha, perhaps so! I think I got it out of the teen section at the library, but maybe I didn’t. Now YA’s way more popular than chick lit. Funny how the tides to turn.

      The book is very thin, but it’s also tall with fairly small print. Took me a lot longer to read three hundred pages than usual.

  4. Renae says:

    WAZZAH to Marcus Flutie? Obviously, I must give this a try. I haven’t actually read the Ruby Oliver books, and I’m not sure if I’m going to in this lifetime (maybe in my afterlife, which will be me sitting in an awesome library never sleeping), BUT this one sounds fantastic, especially considering the WAZZAH factor.

    • Christina says:

      Well, I don’t wazzah Marcus Flutie yet, but that’s what everyone does. So far, I am unsure, but he’s definitely interesting, if not lovable yet precisely.

  5. Amanda says:

    I love your review! I just read Sloppy Firsts for the first time a month ago and I agree with basically everything that you mention here. One of my favorite aspects about the book is that I am able to relate so well to Jessica, even though I’m no longer a teen. And thank goodness I’m not the only one who wasn’t in love with Marcus Flutie after the first book. I’m sure I’ll grow to love him, but I just didn’t see enough there in the first book for me to justify the intense fangirling that seems to have developed around his character. And now after reliving my experience reading this book once more, I have to acquire and read Second Helpings!

    I have heard good things about the Ruby Oliver series. If it’s something that Jessica Darling fans would enjoy and vice versa, then I really do need to make an effort to read that series soon!

    • Christina says:

      Oh yay! I’m glad you approve, especially since you just finished!

      Let’s just assume that the amount we relate to Jessica is not a sign of our immaturity, but of the universality of the struggles she goes through. Yeah, I wonder if the flailing anytime Marcus Flutie is mentioned is based on the whole series or if they really did love him just from this. He has potential, but he’s got a ways to go.

      Ooh, you should check it out. Ruby Oliver’s a bit fluffier, but also very good.

  6. I picked up the first four books at a used store for $15 and they are still sitting on my shelf. I’ve heard such good things about the Jessica Darling series, and I like that you thought she was real. I totally called be ho’s and hoochies and swore when I was in high school so that sounds about right to me too. I’m really curious about the ending though. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to these books soon!

    • Christina says:

      Oooh, you should totally read them! I just picked up the rest of the series from the library. I wish I owned them but I’m trying to be good right now, so library it is. :-p

  7. Nori says:

    Yes!!! Love, love, love these books! Particularly, this first one. Jessica Darling has definitely had an impact on my life. Her sass has inspired a many number of female leads I have written. You’re making me want to re-read them all, right now!

  8. Kat Balcombe says:

    In your dotage? hahahaha you make me laugh 😉

    I’ve never really even read the synopsis of this one before, let alone a review! Maybe I need to check it out 🙂

  9. I’ve heard great things about this one, but I’ve never really bothered to see what it’s about. I read the first Ruby Oliver book and loved it though. Plus I overthink everything and love protagonists I can connect to… I need to get my hands on this!

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