Review: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection

I received this book for free from Gifted in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & PerfectionThe (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection by Megan McCafferty
Series: Jessica Darling's It List #1
Published by Poppy on August 25, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Humor
Pages: 240
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted
Goodreads
four-stars

Move over, Dork Diaries! Jessica Darling, star of Megan McCafferty's bestselling Jessica Darling series for adults, is back in a hilarious new series perfect for tween (10 to 14) girls.

I hadn't even gotten to homeroom yet and I'd already discovered five hard truths about junior high:

1. My best friend had turned pretty.
2. She didn't know it yet.
3. It wouldn't be long before she did.
4. That knowledge would change everything between us.
5. And there wasn't a thing I could do about it.

It's the first day of seventh grade. Is Jessica Darling doomed for dorkdom?

New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty's hilarious series opener will have you laughing, cringing, and cheering for Jessica Darling as she learns that being herself beats being popular, pretty & perfect any day.

First Sentence: “What happens when EVERYTHING you know about ANYTHING is ALL WRONG?”

Review:
As a huge fan of the original Jessica Darling series, or, at least, as huge of a fan as one can be while intentionally deciding not to finish said series, I was super curious about Megan McCafferty’s prequel. I mean, more Jessica Darling is pretty much always acceptable, except for the fact that I had my reasons in stopping after two books, but that’s an issue from another time. Anyway, now we can see Jessica tackle junior high, and McCafferty brings Jessica’s trademark wit, observational skills and honesty to middle school.

Middle school Jessica does have a lot in common with high school Jessica, which is probably not all that surprising given that they are the same person separated by some timey-wimey stuff known as life. McCafferty does a good job making the narration similar but a bit different than that of the original series. This Jessica does come across a good deal younger. She’s not got as impressive of a vocabulary, though she’s starting to build it because she’s discovered that her English teacher will really raise her essay grades for each thesaurus phrase substituted for a normal term. Plus, middle school Jessica is a lot more naive and less confident than high school Jessica.

By high school, Jessica Darling has pretty much comes to terms with her role in the social hierarchy and that she will never be the most popular girl in school. In middle school, Jessica’s still trying to be what she’s not. The series title, Jessica Darling’s It List, is actually a bit misleading. In fact, this is Bethany’s It List. Jessica’s much older sister Bethany, in a rare instance of sisterly feeling, has decided to help Jessica avoid the curse of dorkdom by passing down the patented method for achieving popularity. Unsurprisingly, the It List does not work so well for Jessica.

See, Jessica, intelligent though she is, does not excel at pretending to be something she is not. Her half-hearted attempts end up fooling no one. Jessica’s a bit of a dork and a teacher’s pet, and there’s no changing that. If she doesn’t care about boys, she won’t pretend to and she has trouble caring about her friends’ woes over such things either. In fact, her biggest seventh grade fails occur when she stops being Jessica, like when she signs up for CHEER TEAM!!!, which she does not have the spirit for.

Megan McCafferty totally captures all the awkwardness of middle school. The romantic awkwardness, like how the boys chant at Bridget on the bus, like hooting like a pack of monkeys is really endearing. Or how Aleck (aka young Marcus Flutie) flirts with a “wear her down” annoyance tactic. The friendship awkwardness, which is pretty much encapsulated by Bridget becoming gorgeous just in time for seventh grade, leaving Jessica to be a normal. The middle school years especially are a time of transition where friendships come and go, and many BFFs are actually trying to climb on top of one another up the social ladder. Then there’s the budding friendship between Hope and Jessica, who any readers of the original series know will be besties eventually, bonded by their judgment of everyone else’s stupidity and ridiculous social rituals.

The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection is the middle school version of Mean Girls, I swear. I can even cast them for you. Bridget would be the obvious choice for Regina George since she’s the prettiest and most popular seventh grader, but she’s actually more of a Karen Smith, because she doesn’t really know what’s going on a lot of the time and is very easily led. Manda is the Regina. She even makes up slang (mondo) and decides when it’s over. Sara, though she wants to be a queen bee, is Gretchen Wieners, a born follower, who does everything Manda says and always will, even though she resents Regina’s treatment of her. Jessica’s the Cady and Hope is Janis/Damian, only they could never care enough to make Jessica into the evil popular girl, and Jessica would never want Burke Roy, the Aaron Samuels figure. Also, I’m sure you all didn’t need to know all of that, but, whatever, THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION.

Though it’s been too long for me to say with any assurance how well the occurrences here mesh with those of Sloppy Firsts, The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection does stand very nicely on its own. McCafferty’s depiction of middle school cliques, awkwardness and romance shines with her trademark humor.

Favorite Quote:

“I really hate awkward silences. The only thing I hate even more than awkward silences is my unstoppable urge to fill them.”

10 responses to “Review: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection”

  1. GillyB says:

    Eeeee, baby Jessica Darling! I like the final cover they went with for this. It’s cuter than the ARC cover. And baby Marcus Flutie!!! Excited to get to this now!

    • Christina says:

      INORITE! She’s so tiny and unsure of her self. The cuuuute. Also, baby Marcus Flutie is so much like himself and I want to squish his little baby cheeks.

  2. Alessandra says:

    I didn’t really like the third and fourth books in the Jessica Darling series, but the fifth was very good. The best one is still Second Helpings, though.

    Aww, is there really young Marcus Flutie? Must get my hands on this book. Fortunately it comes out soon.

  3. fakesteph says:

    YES! Exactly. I loved this. It matches so well with what we know happened from the books, but it’s so great to actually read it from Jessica’s younger self’s perspective. I’m curious where this series will end, because at the start of Sloppy Firsts Jessica is angry and bitter and in this MG prequel she is… still notso, but she lacks the edge. I loved seeing Jessica without her cynicism.

    • Christina says:

      Oh, does it? I couldn’t remember much of her accounting of the past. All I really remember is that she and Bridget had a falling out sometime in middle school, and I definitely remember Manda. She does lack her hard edge, which was probably what made me bond with her to an absurd degree.

  4. Amy says:

    I have the whole Jessica Darling Series and still have to read it. Total fail!! This sounds super cute and fun.

  5. Aw, this sounds cute. I like the idea of doing prequel type books, though they don’t always work out well–sounds like she captured the uncomfortable middle school years (is there ever a time when you feel more self-conscious?) well, though! I was kind of just so-so on the first Jessica Darling book (don’t hit me!), but I do want to read the second one sometime.

    But…why did you stop reading them? Eh?

    • Christina says:

      She captured them so well! Not my experience exactly, but it did take me back in a lot of ways. Nope, middle school was the height of self-consciousness, with high school a close second.

      The second one is better, imo. I stopped reading them because my ship was in a good place, and I was not going to watch them go into an on again/off again relationship, because I do not ship couples that do that. Not one bit.

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