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Wits About Her

Author Megan McCafferty discusses her new book about a witty 12-year-old starting junior high

September 09, 2013
JERRY BAUER

Best-selling young adult author Megan McCafferty's new book, Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness, and Perfection, is her first for middle schoolers.

Were you nervous about starting school this year? On her last day of summer break before junior high, 12-year-old Jessica Darling—the protagonist of the new book Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness, and Perfection—says she feels fine about entering seventh grade, even though her best friend, Bridget, is freaking out. “If I had to describe myself,” Jessica says, “I’d say I’m very witty, medium pretty, and a little bit zitty” but with “room for improvement.”

Jessica Darling's It List, by Megan McCafferty, is available in bookstores now.

DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS
Jessica Darling's It List, by Megan McCafferty, is available in bookstores now.

But Jessica’s social older sister, Bethany, thinks Jessica needs a lot of improvement, so Bethany gives her an advice list for achieving “popularity, prettiness, and perfection” in junior high. Jessica tries to follow Bethany’s It List, but things don’t quite go according to plan—like when one tip to join the cheer team earns Jessica the awkward role of her junior high’s mascot, Mighty the New Jersey Seagull.

It List is a prequel to a best-selling young adult series, written by Megan McCafferty, that followed Jessica from high school through adulthood. The author told TFK she got the idea for It List while volunteering in her son's elementary school library. “I have a lot of 8-to-13 year olds in my life right now,” she told TFK. "If the [older] series was the type I wish I had in high school, these books are what I want these young people in my life to have now." McCafferty says she hopes kids who relate to Jessica will "see the humor in it and feel better about what they are going through." Read more from TFK’s Q&A with the author, below.

TFK:

What is Jessica like as a seventh grader? 

MEGAN MCCAFFERTY:

She is both an insider and an outsider. She notices things, she thinks too much, and sometimes she doesn’t think enough. She’s flawed and she makes mistakes, and I think it’s those mistakes that make her relatable.

TFK:

Jessica accepts the It List from Bethany pretty skeptically. Why?

MCCAFFERTY:

I was interested in the idea that when you are confused or you don’t know what path to follow, you look for role models. Bethany is 10 years older than Jessica is, and she sees that Bethany ruled middle school. But at the same time, Jessica recognizes that she and Bethany are very different people. Ultimately what makes her follow her sister’s rules, despite her hesitation, is the connection she wants with her older sister.

TFK:

How do you relate to Jessica at that age?

MCCAFFERTY:

Like Jessica, I was really looking for connection. Her friendships mean so much to her, as they do at that age for all. She is very loyal to her elementary school friend Bridget, but she also recognizes that middle school brings new opportunities, and that is definitely something that I saw, starting in seventh grade. I realized that I didn’t necessarily have to be the same person that I was in elementary school. With new friendships came new possibilities.

TFK:

What do you admire most about Jessica?

MCCAFFERTY:

That she is unapologetic about her intelligence. She is smart and proud of being smart, and she wants to do well in school. She talks about how her nerd self is always trying to battle her trying-to-be-normal self, and the nerd self usually wins, but she’s okay with that. Hopefully, if girls and boys read about Jessica and see somebody who is not afraid to be someone who raises their hand in class, then maybe they’ll see that as somebody worth aspiring to as well.

TFK:

What do you hope kids take away from the book?

MCCAFFERTY:

That growing up is a process of trial and many, many errors. You are not going to get things right the first time or the second time. Most times, you learn more from your mistakes than you do from your triumphs. So if they can see how Jessica turned these mortifying moments into these defining moments, I would like readers to come away feeling better about those times in their lives where they fell short of their own expectations.

TFK:

What advice do you have for kids who are passionate about writing?

MCCAFFERTY:

To write, write, write, and read, read, read. You become a better writer when you read more often, and writing is like any other skill, you have to practice. For me, my writing voice came out of writing in my journals, journals that I didn’t show to anyone. Feedback is important too, but I think that there’s a certain amount that you should keep for yourself because if you share too much too soon, you could get the wrong feedback at the wrong time, which can be very disappointing. It takes a lot of courage to be a writer and share your work with people.

TFK:

What’s next for Jessica?

MCCAFFERTY:

There is a second book [currently titled Jessica Darling’s It list #2: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Friends, Foes and Faux Friends, available fall 2014]. It deals with friendships. Beyond that, I would love to continue writing about Jessica as long as there is an audience that wants to read about her.


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