Written by Hannah
Megan McCafferty’s excellent Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings are Young Adult novels. The heroine, Jessica Darling (McCafferty plays off her name very well), is in high school through both of the books, making her the typical YA novel heroine age. Both books deal with growing up, falling in love, losing and making friends, and coming to terms with who you are, as well as the realization that your parents are human too. All of this stuff should get both books placed squarely on the YA shelf and indeed, they’re both selling like gangbusters among teenagers.
But here’s the thing. The books are marketed as adult novels (check Amazon’s listings) and, in a highly unscientific survey conducted by yours truly (which consisted of me visiting five bookstores), not only are they found in the “literature” section of bookstores, they’re always (ALWAYS) displayed in the Chick Lit section.
Now this, to me, is just as interesting as the books themselves. How and why does a YA novel manage to wind up selling (and quite well) to those outside the YA demographic?
The first reason is obvious – good writing. Though the story does follow the character and plot points outlined above, McCafferty writes with wit and skill and a real love for her characters. Jessica is someone that just about any female, be she 14 or 55, can relate to. McCafferty’s themes – loss, friendship, love, family – are all things anyone can relate to. And the main male character, Marcus – well, let’s just put it this way. I can only think of him as OMGMARCUSSQUEEE! even though I know (a) he’s fictional and (b) his characterization is totally based on what Jessica sees and chooses to relate to us, and some of the things he does – while keeping the story spinning out (especially in the second book) – seem a little “weh?” if one stops to think about them. But, quite frankly, the way McCafferty writes Marcus, or more accurately, the way she writes Jessica wanting Marcus is, again, something just about every woman can relate to, because McCafferty has the classic bad boy/good girl thing going and plays with it (and our expectations of it) very well.
The second reason – and this, to me, is the real clincher – is the following. Rather than write a YA novel populated with the world of the here and now, McCafferty has written two books (the first one more than the second – I suspect the overwhelming response of the teen market necessitated some more modern references) that could take place, for all intents and purposes, in the 1980s. Jessica is a devotee of the 80s and her cultural references are to movies/music/etc. from that period – which happens to be the very period that the target audience of most Chick Lit lived through. This gives readers like yours truly an additional zone of readability. Sure, we may be reading about a teenage girl when we haven’t been teenagers in years, but hey, this teenager is talking about things we remember – movies we loved, music we listened to! It was a very interesting move on McCafferty’s part and I know a lesser writer couldn’t have pulled it off. But McCafferty does and does so spectacularly, given that – well, as stated, the novels have many (many!) devoted teenage AND adult fans.
So – good writing and great characters (seriously, you just can’t not love Marcus. You can’t.) make these worth reading. Even though the second book is weaker it must be read too, if only for one moment towards the end which actually made me sigh like I haven’t since – well, since I was a teenager. These are two books that are phenomenally popular and deserve to be. Read them both. You won’t regret it.