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Jack of Hearts (and other parts)

Review

Jack of Hearts (and other parts)

Jack is 17 and unapologetically gay and loves partying, fashion and sex --- cue the rumor mill at his private NYC high school. Sure, he’s done a lot of stuff to gain a reputation, but some of the popular stories he’s heard about himself are straight out of fiction. He’s never slept with a teacher…or a coach. He hasn’t had a foursome…yet. And there was no orgy in the hot tub. Despite all these scandalous stories, Jack never tries to dispel them because they’re not that bad, right? He has the outlook that things could be worse and a few fake sex stories aren’t going to hurt anyone.

But then things do get bad. Jack is asked by his friend Jenna to start writing a sex advice column for his peers on her blog. Soon after he begins receiving notes, at first innocent ones, but they quickly turn to threats and blackmail to force him to change who he is. His principal is no help as he believes Jack has asked for this type of attention and only suggests Jack be more “normal.” With the one adult Jack goes to not taking the situation seriously, Jack and his friends must figure out who is threatening Jack before there is nothing left of what makes Jack, Jack.

If I had to describe JACK OF HEARTS (and Other Parts) in one word: Ballsy. Excuse the double entendre. Rosen competently takes readers where no YA book has gone before. While in recent years we’ve seen an uprising of LGBT+ books and books with sex involved, JACK OF HEARTS is something new. JACK OF HEARTS has detailed sex scenes, gives sex advice, calls out the fetishization of gay men and calls out straight people and their ideas about the “right” way to be gay. These relatively ground-breaking topics for YA paired with Jack’s blunt and witty voice makes Rosen’s YA debut refreshing and seriously un-put-down-able.

"Rosen competently takes readers where no YA book has gone before....Relatively ground-breaking topics for YA paired with Jack’s blunt and witty voice makes Rosen’s YA debut refreshing and seriously un-put-down-able."

I finished the book in mere hours. My hands couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. But as much as I enjoyed JACK OF HEARTS, there were certain things I wasn’t personally fond of. First, the characters more closely resemble characters from “Gossip Girl” than they do actual teenagers. Our main trio belong to affluent families in New York City. Their lives seem to heavily consist of going to spectacular house parties thrown by their private school peers, drinking excessively and smoking. They buy extravagant --- both in style and cost --- clothing that makes my wallet (and will make anti-fur people) weep. So, obviously, that leaves room for a big disconnect from the characters to the average reader. While this may not bother some, I found myself unable to refrain my eyes from rolling.

While that disconnect was a bit of a problem for me, my main grievance was with the excessive underage drinking. It’s a problem that is often normalized in real life and in fiction, which is extremely dangerous. Had it been just a few drinks throughout the course of the book, I wouldn’t feel the need to really bring it up but that wasn’t the case. Jack drinks quite a bit (to the point of blacking out once), and while I think there was a potential hidden commentary there, it wasn’t explicitly expressed (unlike so many other things in JACK OF HEARTS), so I can’t comfortably just assume that was the case. I just wish we could’ve seen Jack talk about drinking and drinking responsibly in the informational without being preachy way that the rest of the book specializes in.

The mystery aspect of the story was, in my opinion, a bit weak. I was able to figure it out very early on and I can’t say that reading a mystery you’ve already solved is at the top of the “Fun-Things-To-Do” list. That being said, I wouldn’t say that it was obvious to the extent of not being able to enjoy the book at all. The ending, however, did feel rushed. The resolution was extremely abrupt and left me unsatisfied.

Despite my criticisms of JACK OF HEARTS, I cannot deny my love for it or stress enough the necessity of what Rosen has done. I’m hoping JACK OF HEARTS will set a sort of precedent for sex in young adult books. Not one that mandates that every YA novel has to go as far into --- or even include --- sex, but that it can. That YA books featuring sex (and gay sex at that!) are worth writing, worth publishing. I want to see more YA books with sex really go for it instead of skirting around certain scenarios or words. Seriously, if I read another “sexy” scene that uses the ever so popular phrase “heat radiating from my core,” I’m going to lose my mind!

The question that seems to always come up when talking about sex in teen literature is this: “Are teens mature enough to be exposed to something of this nature?” Though, it’s usually phrased as a statement, because a question would invite a discussion, something that many seem heavily opposed to. This is the wrong question to ask, we’ve surpassed that point. The reality is, teens are already exposed to sex whether they wanted to be or not. It’s in movies, music, and the ever-growing porn industry. Once you’ve become aware of something, you can never become unaware of it again, which is why discussions and healthy depictions of sex should be welcomed for teens. We have access to unhealthy portrayals of sex, far more access to that than we do an in-depth sexual education class. We still can’t even begin to imagine just how harmful that negative exposure is to a young persons’ mental, physical and sexual health. We as a society should be doing everything to combat that. But pushing sex into a box and trying to hide it away doesn’t work, it does more harm.

This is why JACK OF HEARTS (and Other Parts) is necessary. It welcomes a healthy discussion of sex. It’s non-judgmental and it’s comfortable to read. The advice given is damn good and carefully thought out. It’s everything you don’t learn in sex ed. JACK OF HEARTS gives advice on coming out, asexuality, discussing virginity with an experienced partner, different types of sex, one-night-stands and what to do when sex doesn’t go quite as planned. The questions being asked sounded like they were being asked by actual teens. These are questions some have, and it does more harm than good to ignore them, and it’s good that that is finally being recognized.

Another amazing thing about JACK OF HEARTS is just Jack being Jack. Jack is multifaceted but let's talk about a few key things: he’s witty, wears makeup and short shorts, loves sex and isn’t looking for a monogamous relationship. In my experience, the YA books I’ve read with a gay protagonist constantly feel the need to state that they’re not “that type” of gay. They stress an interest in sports or that they only wear hoodies and baggy jeans, as though the alternative is shameful. This isn’t a dig on any of those books or their writers, just an observation. I can count on one hand (with many fingers to spare!) the books I’ve read with more “feminine” or androgynous men where their style or way of being isn’t a punchline. There’s still this notion that certain people can only wear, do, or like certain things and to defer from that is to rub it in others faces, and that one should expect to deal with whatever the consequences of that are. It’s nonsense, and through Jack, Rosen calls it just that (except more eloquently). Representation is invaluable, Jack is someone I haven’t seen represented as much as others. We know why that is, now we must change it, and Rosen is.

JACK OF HEARTS (and Other Parts) is a fine debut and a remarkable break-through for YA. While I think it had its weaknesses, its strengths more than make up for them. I’d recommend reading it for the advice given alone, though everything in-between is entertaining. 

Reviewed by Olivia W., Teen Board Member on October 30, 2018

Jack of Hearts (and other parts)
by L. C. Rosen