Starting with Sloppy Firsts (2001), McCafferty explored the later teen and early 20s years of angst-ridden Jessica Darling in a five-book series. In this start to a new series, Jessica comes back for younger readers as an angst-ridden (of course) seventh-grader.
Jessica’s older sister, Bethany, took junior high by storm, so popular, well-dressed and successful (in her own eyes) as to become co-captain of the vaunted junior high CHEER TEAM!!! Now she’s offering somewhat terse advice to guide Jessica along her path—perhaps not an altogether desirable one, since Bethany is a bit shallow. Jessica was counting on lots of help from Bridget, but her BFF’s star is rising as rapidly as Jessica’s is setting. Some potential new friends turn out to be less than supportive as well. Jessica, after abject failure at CHEER TEAM!!! tryouts, is chosen to be the anonymous costumed school mascot, a sea gull, a role she clumsily fills all too well. Brief characterizations of teachers and students are often humorously spot-on, and rules, such as those for cutting lines, fully capture the junior high social scene in all its often distressing ignominy.
Jessica’s take on junior high may be superficial, but she brings readers on a funny ride, even if many—perhaps even most—of her problems are not resolved by the end, setting up the next in the series, as expected. (Fiction. 11-14)