Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

Title: Sloppy Firsts
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Broadway Books
Rating: warty

At some seventy pages in (of some 300) I have to say I'm wondering what the point of this novel is! Not that I'm nauseated or repulsed by it or anything - it's a decent read as far as it goes, but it isn't really going anywhere! If what I've read so far is a measure of what's to come, I really don't feel up for another 230 or so pages of this, especially since the female protagonist uses the non-word "bizillion" every other page. Usually something happens in the first few pages of a story to give the reader an idea of what's going on - what the obstacle is which the hero must overcome, where the adventure will lead - but that never happens in this one. Oh, and you'll have to wait for p250 before you ever learn why the novel is titled Sloppy Firsts, and even then the 'explanation' makes zero sense unless McCafferty has some weird-ass interpretion of what the term 'sloppy seconds' means....

This novel is nothing more than the diary of a sixteen-year-old who is significantly out of touch with the real world, and as interesting as that premise could be, it isn't anywhere near enough for me to offer my regard as it's written. Not with this diary! Although it did give me a great idea of a novel of my own! That's the problem with reading both good and bad novels - I get all kinds of ideas which I'm never, ever going to get the chance to bring to publication - not all of them!

The Jessica diary is split into sections by month and consists of random days described by our hero. Each chapter has the date for a header. Between the monthly sections is a letter which Jessica has written to her friend Hope, but we're never treated to Hope's responses. Now are we to conclude that Hope doesn't respond, and Jessica merely thinks she does? Or is Hope nothing but a complete fiction to begin with?

The darling of this tale is Jessica, a highly intelligent and quite athletic girl who has (so we're given to understand) lost her best friend not to death or to an irretrievable breakdown of friendship, but to her friend moving away from the area. Jessica was pretty much addicted to Hope and now she's hopeless. There was nothing other than friendship between them (at least as far as I can tell) but Jessica is rendered aimless by her departure. She's reduced to hanging out with the sorry threesome with which Jessica used to hang, yet Jessica largely detests them. She's being pressured to date the school jock, Scotty, especially with her older sister's wedding rapidly approaching, but she detests him, too. It seems highly likely she will date him at least for a time, but she's doubtlessly going to end up dating the school drug addict Marcus (yes, it's that obvious), someone who she claims to detest.

A new girl to the school, named Hy, seems set to replace Hope as Jessica's best (on site) friend, but she feels guilty about even thinking of replacing Hope. Both of her parents are in situ, but she feels alienated from them and from her sister. Indeed, she sees no difference between her big sister and her mom! She has amusing takes on life at school and on her fellow students, but these are not nearly as funny as I'd hoped they would be; however, since I'm not totally turned off by this, I decided to stay with it and see where it leads. I have to confess that I'm already looking forward to getting through this so I can move on to the next novel on my reading list. That's not a good sign!

Jessica does date Scotty, but not quite how I'd envisioned it: it's really a virtual date, whereby he agrees to go to her sister's wedding, but then he starts having sex with a younger student and ditches Jessica. Later he decides it was a mistake, but Jessica won't have any more to do with him. So she is capable of making smart decisions.

One day at school, she fakes "feminine troubles" to get out of watching a school film, and is approached on the sly in the nurses's office by Marcus who wants her urine so he can pass a drug test. Like a moron she complies after he manipulates her into doing it. When the truth comes out, as it inevitably does, Marcus is busted for using someone else's urine, and some young female student - who wants to be a rebel, evidently - confesses to supplying the urine. So Jessica gets off Scot-free (so to speak!) and Marcus is hauled off and sent to some other facility, but I have no doubt he'll be back.

Jessica is taken for a medical check-up because she's tired all the time and hasn't had a period in six months. She has trouble sleeping and is stressed out, especially now that Hy seems to be hanging with the "Clueless Crew" (the threesome of the Hope era) and Jessica is slowly but surely being elbowed out - which doesn't bother her at all. I told you she was smart! This medical visit doesn't result in anything and is quickly forgotten even by the author.

The wedding arrives and Jessica hooks up with some guy who is the best man's younger brother, but though she plans on getting him alone and kissing him, she freaks out when he brings up the subject of sex, and she freaks out in a way which isn't commensurate at all with the approach he took towards raising the topic, especially since he was far too drunk by then to actually proceed with his suggestion! But then Jessica has shown herself to be severely unforgiving - first with Scotty, now with Cal, later with Hy.

Eventually, school is out and Jessica spends the summer working on the local board-walk. I guess Pineville is a lame kinda seaside resort, which had never really registered with me. Nor did it register - if indeed it had ever been mentioned - that Jessica was the third child in this family! The second, Matthew, died in infancy. Jessica sees herself as a "mistake". She spends her entire summer working on the boardwalk to save money while fantasizing about her upcoming visit to Hope for her birthday, but that's dashed when Hope gets a scholarship and starts her new school two weeks early. Jessica never does go to see her - not so far, anyway. I had thought that this impending visit had dashed my view that Hope actually doesn't exist, but that view now remains a possibility since the visit is canceled. She hears nothing from Hy - and neither do the Clueless Crew. The assumption is that she's gone back to NYC. Neither does she hear anything about Marcus, although she does think about him with an unhealthy frequency.

I was lying in bed reading this and realizing that I probably won't get it finished tonight when I also realized that for the first time I really don't care if I finish it or not. When I had only ~65 pages to go - roughly an hour's easy reading - I felt reasonably sure that I would rate this as a low-level worthy, but I was equally sure that I would never have any desire to read any more of this series - of which McCafferty has milked five volumes so far.

On a positive note, Jessica has realized how self-centered and shallow she is, which is a first for a YA novel in my experience. That alone would have rated it as worthy, all other things beign equal, which they enver are. It;s not so much that the novel is bad, it's just that it isn't good, and it comes off very poorly in a road test against a really well-written novel such as, for example, Sea of Tranquility, which was truly excellent, and You Against Me, which was remarkable.

So the crew comes back to school after the summer is over to find that Marcus is back (no surprise at all there) and that Hy was only at Pineville High school in the first place to do research for an article which got her a six figure novel deal and an entry into Harvard. Hy tries to contact Jessica, but Jessica refuses, foolishly, to deal with her, yet she lusts shamelessly after Marcus. That's what turned me off her completely. He abuses her to a large extent, and not in a physical way, but in a way which is just as harmful. This does inspire her to write an article for her school newspaper which wins her fans and notoriety, and which precipitates the clueless crew breaking up in a literal fight which gets all three of them suspended for a week. When she and Marcus begin talking at night (he can't sleep either; what a wonderful nightcap he makes) it's always Jessica who calls him - never the other way around.

If I hadn't read the last forty pages of this I would not have hesitated to continue with my plan to rate it as just worthy. But after reading those pages I honestly can't rate it that highly. I had to put up with a throw-away gay slur, with Jessica saying "bizillion" a "bizillion" times, with her endlessly depressive self-image, with her sad love affair with the ostensibly non-existent Hope, with Mccafferty thinking that the big muscle in your upper arm is a singular "bicep", with jessica's total, blind self-absoption, and with her fatuous instadore with Marcus.

It suddenly occurred to me that I'd been more than tolerant enough of McCafferty's masturbation only to get nothing in return for my patience and faith. You know you can behave that way and it can be seen as unconditional love, the love a parent has for their child(ren), but it can also been seen as a complete and utter waste of a life! I do not have sufficient love for McCafferty's writing to put up with this waste of my time and be as passive about it as Jessica is about her life!

Maybe if you're close to Jessica's age, you'll get more from this than I did, but please be warned that it goes so far downhill in the last forty pages that it ain't ever comin' back. Anything that starts with Marcus renaming Jessica as Darlene, and her passive acceptance, as ever, of that even as she agrees, for all practical purposes, to do with Marcus what Manda did to Bridget with Burke (an aptly-named character if there ever was one) can not be salvaged, not even by as frantic last minute effort by McCafferty. it was too little too late and it was just too much in a long line of not enough. I'm sorry, but worthy it ain't.

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