Title: Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts)
Author: Lev A.C. Rosen
Genre: YA, LGBT, Contemporary
Rating: 4/5 stars
Blurb (from Goodreads):
‘My first time getting it in the butt was kind of weird. I think it’s going to be weird for everyone’s first time, though.’
Meet Jack Rothman. He’s seventeen and loves partying, makeup and boys – sometimes all at the same time. His sex life makes him the hot topic for the high school gossip machine. But who cares? Like Jack always says, ‘it could be worse’.
He doesn’t actually expect that to come true.
But after Jack starts writing an online sex advice column, the mysterious love letters he’s been getting take a turn for the creepy. Jack’s secret admirer knows everything: where he’s hanging out, who he’s sleeping with, who his mum is dating. They claim they love Jack, but not his unashamedly queer lifestyle. They need him to curb his sexuality, or they’ll force him.
As the pressure mounts, Jack must unmask his stalker before their obsession becomes genuinely dangerous…
I…am a little lost for words.
In a good way.
This book is so many things at once, but all of them are good. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting – it was better.
I think the thing that held it all together was the protagonist, Jack. He’s just…legitimately likeable. He’s not perfect, and he doesn’t quite have the same charm as characters like Percy Jackson and Simon Spier, but to me this made him all the more real.
He has some brilliant one liners, and we get the sarcastic side of his personality shining through, but there’s also the anxious Jack underneath; he’s definitely one of the best rounded male YA characters I’ve come across in a while.
As the plot progresses, we see Jack’s downward spiral mentally and emotionally, but it never feels overwrought. As someone with anxiety, I appreciate that this is just a part of his character without being analysed every other chapter by other characters (or by Jack himself – he has his own coping mechanism and he uses it).
The two main supporting characters, Jenna and Ben, are also brilliant; both are bold and distinct from one another and not once did they feel two-dimensional. All three of the characters have disagreements and screw things up, and their human responses to everything are so painfully real.
As for adult characters (who tend to be misrepresented in YA fiction), I was pleasantly surprised by Jack’s mum and his art teacher, Nance. Both of them are fierce and independent and to be honest, just straight-up bad-asses. The fact that his mum is never vilified is particularly satisfying.
Principal Pattyn, however, is a dickhead of epic proportions. Everyone knows someone like this character, and every word out of his mouth is the shit we all hear from homophobes on a regular basis. I want to throw a brick at this guy. What an asshole.
Considering just how large the cast of characters is, I’m impressed as how well-developed they all are. In particular, the rotating cast of guys that Jack sleeps with; not once did I get confused or lose track of who was who.
Speaking of, this book taught me more about gay sex (and the safety precautions you should take) than school ever did. The whole plot line of how Jack’s column develops is so good? I loved reading all the posts and responses because they were actually really, really well thought-out pieces of advice.
The way sexuality is presented is one of my personal favourite things about the book. I know that it’s becoming more common in YA books now, but seeing LBGT+ characters normalised still puts a smile on my face. The very fact that Jack wears makeup without really bothering to comment on the whys and wherefores behind it it F A B U L O U S.
The main mystery plot line, however, was also great. It’s engaging without being obvious, but I never lost attention. I honestly didn’t guess the culprit behind the notes before it was revealed (but equally, I could have guessed – it wasn’t a resolution that was plucked out of thin air).
I’d perhaps have liked a little more explanation on why the whole thing occurred in the first place, but I guess that’s realistic; we don’t always get to know everything.
My only other slight criticism is that the writing feels blocky or clunky at times, like we’re being told what’s going on, instead of shown, but I eventually chalked this down to it being a part of Jack’s character. The disjointedness stems in part from him being at his most anxious, so I’ll give it a pass.
All in all, this is a solid read; it’s enjoyable, intriguing, and – dare I say it – educational too.
Lots of love,