Jessica Darling, who first appeared as a high-schooler in Sloppy Firsts (2001), is back in this prequel series opener that sees her poised for the first day of seventh grade. And is she freaking out about starting Pineville Junior High? Of course. Luckily, or unluckily as it turns out, big sis Bethany provides her with a cheat sheet that’s a “Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness, and Perfection.” These four items (get out your notepads) are as follows: “Wear something different every day”; “Make the CHEER TEAM!!!”; “Pick your first boyfriend wisely”; and “Stick with the IT clique.” This is easier said than done, as Jess becomes the cheer team mascot and finds she is not interested in any boys. On top of all that, her BFF Bridget is suddenly pretty and popular. While this doesn’t break tween ground, Jessica is a winning heroine, and as she stumbles and fumbles (and literally falls flat on her face), readers will laugh alongside her and, yes, cheer as she comes into her authentic self.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The Jessica Darling series was a New York Times best-seller, so the prequels, backed by a solid marketing campaign, should be similarly well received.