'Sloppy Firsts' author Megan McCafferty brings her protagonist back to middle school

In her new series, McCafferty follows her protagonist, Jessica Darling, as she navigates her early teen years.

The Jessica Darling series currently spans five books.

Younger readers may soon be joining the teenagers and adults who love Megan McCafferty’s protagonist Jessica Darling.

McCafferty will write two books that will serve as prequels to her Jessica books and follow the heroine in middle school, according to the author. She said she was inspired to write a story aimed at younger readers after she heard complaints from her son’s classmates that lots of books didn’t interest them.

“I thought, what if there were a series or a book that dealt with the issues that they’re interested in?” she told Publishers Weekly. “Changes in your body, changes in your relationships with friends, changes with your parents, changes in the social dynamics – all of those things that tend to be more young-adult issues – but in a way that is age-appropriate.”

She wasn’t even thinking of the protagonist of her other series until she was in bed at 4:30 one morning and the idea of writing about Jessica in middle school came to her.

“I wrote for three hours before my husband and son even woke up,” McCafferty said.

The first book, titled “Jessica Darling’s It-List,” will be released Sept. 3, and the second, “The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Friends, Foes & Faux Friends,” is due to be released next fall. One issue she and McCafferty’s editor, Elizabeth Bewley, wrestled with was making sure the books felt current, since McCafferty’s first book about Jessica, “Sloppy Firsts,” is set in 2001 (its release year) and so she would have been in middle school in the 1990s. Bewley said she and McCafferty tried to stick to timeless references in the books. For example, at one point Jessica is described wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt that belonged to her sister’s boyfriend.

There would be some guy with a Rolling Stones T-shirt whether it was 1998 or 2013,” the editor said.

McCafferty says she hopes longtime fans of the Jessica Darling series, which spanned five books in all including a fifth installment in 2009, will give the new series to younger readers.

I would love my older readers to read it and then give it to the tween in their lives and say, ‘Here’s this great girl, Jessica Darling,’” she said. “'She was one of my favorites growing up and now you can read her, too.’”

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