Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty picks up on the story of Jessica Darling several months after the previous novel, Sloppy Firsts. The novel starts in the summer with Jessica participating in a special program for gifted children and carries through to her graduation from high school. During this time, she learns more about herself, her friends, and continues to miss her best friend Hope, although perhaps not as desperately as she had in the first novel.
My main complaint with this novel, besides its predictability, was the character of Gladdy, Jessica’s grandmother. We’ve seen this woman before—the quirky grandparent who speaks in a stereotypical fashion, who is more flirtatious than her hormone driven granddaughter, and who cloaks her wisdom in weirdness. This character shows up so often as to be an obvious cliché and, given the unique voice McCafferty was able to give to Jessica, I was disappointed in the lack of originality. The grandmother’s role in the story is likewise predictable but, to explain things further would lead to spoilers.
The rest of the characters are mostly two dimensional. They don’t change at all from the first book although one or two do emerge as somewhat more layered. Too few, however. With two books, how hard would it be to flesh out some of the secondary characters and develop them? Maybe I’m being spoiled by George R R Martin but it isn’t enough to have characters running around on the page. Main characters need to be fully realized—Jessica and Marcus live up to this—but so do some of the other people surrounding them. Jessica’s family members are all flat and unchanging. The sister remains narcissistic, the parents continue to be mostly cyphers. And even Hope is an enigma, never coming to life even though she inspires the protagonist to try to fill the void her absence has created.
There are other characters that deserve to be explored but clearly the author didn’t feel the same. I do like Jessica. I care about her and want to know what’s going to happen next. But if the next book is rife with clichés and the characters remain mostly two-dimensional, Jessica’s charm may wear thin and not be strong enough to keep this reader committed through two more books.