So I decided to review these together since they're part of the same series, and unlike most of the other books in the series, these two occur within the same very short time frame.
I read the first two Jessica Darling novels when I was in high school, before the third was published, and must have gotten discouraged by the long request period at the library for the third or simply forgotten about them by the time the next one came out. I came across the third and fourth books while browsing the library for beach reads, and, remembering how much I had enjoyed the first two, decided to give them a try.
And I am SO disappointed I didn't read them sooner! The series' main character and narrator, Jess Darling, is snarky and smart and funny--basically my ideal protagonist. Charmed Thirds picks up several months after book #2 ends (the first two were about her junior and senior years of high school) as she navigates her freshman year at Columbia. She is struggling to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend, Marcus, who goes to school in California, as well as her friendship with Hope, the best friend whose move to Tennessee sparked the series. This book moves really fast, and covers all four years of college, but it never feels rushed or confusing. I think this is mainly because the book's written in the style of a diary, interspersed with emails and letters between Jess and various friends. Fourth Comings starts immediately after Charmed Thirds ends, and this one spans only a week, during which Jess must choose whether or not to accept Marcus' marriage proposal. This book was much quieter and sweeter than the first three, as the whole thing is written to Marcus.
The plotlines of McCafferty's books aren't terribly innovative, but the world she has created is incredibly rich and three-dimensional. Her characters are so believable, and all of them are nuanced and multi-layered, which is hard to accomplish. The best thing about this series, though, is Jess herself. McCafferty has created a real person, someone that you begin to feel like you know, someone you want to be friends with. I found myself getting sad when I remembered that Jess wasn't real, because I came to love her so much. Jess is flawed and has as many (if not more) bad qualities as good, but this makes her just about the most realistic YA protagonist I've ever come across.
The Jess Darling series is honest and raw and sad while still being laugh-out-loud funny--McCafferty captures the beauty of growing up without delving into cliché or sentimentality. She also crosses the boundary between YA Fiction and "grown up" writing very well--I often found myself forgetting that this was supposed to be a YA book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.