Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing me with an ARC via NetGalley.
Title: Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts)
Author: L.C. Rosen
Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT+
Release Date: 30th October 2018
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…
This book is one that I wanted to read from the second I heard about it, and when I got approved for an ARC I actually squealed with delight. A YA novel that openly discusses gay sex? Sign me up. When I actually had the opportunity to read it I was worried it wouldn’t live up to its promises, but it didn’t disappoint, with plenty of casual and normalised conversations.
As an LGBT+ reviewer what stood out to me most as I was reading this was the importance of it. It’s a message to gay teens that everyone has the right to be queer however they want to, express themselves how they want to, without ever being judged for it. This book calls out stereotyping, fetishising, policing, controlling; it was wonderful to read. And it’s educational without ever feeling forced – using the Jack of Hearts column to talk about many issues, from coming out to safe sex, asexuality to safe BDSM practice.
But this is more than just a message wrapped in a cover. It’s a tense and chilling mystery/thriller, with a complex and unique cast of characters. Jack makes a very good conflicted protagonist – torn between staying true to his loud, flamboyant self and giving in to the demands of his increasingly threatening stalker. I didn’t always agree with him – he gets mad at his friends for trying to help, drowns his feelings in alcohol and has the unhealthiest motto of “it could be worse” – but I did always care about him. I found him to be a realistic and relatable teen character, ignoring his problems and avoiding asking for help, and I was invested in seeing him develop in the face of this tense situation.
The way the author was able to blend two very different genres – high school contemporary and dark mystery thriller – created an excellent effect. Being caught up in a party scene only to feel my blood run cold at another terrifying message left by Jack’s stalker made for a pretty unique and memorable reading experience. And while I did find the amount of casual sex going on in this high school rather unrealistic, I thought the contemporary setting was very well grounded – it felt real and current. Which made it even more chilling every time the next note showed up.
What also made this book feel scary to me was the very real issues it highlighted. Jack is worried that the police won’t listen to him because of his reputation, being told that the way he lives his life is wrong, and not-so-subtly hinted by his headmaster that he has brought this situation on himself as a result of his “lifestyle”.
“I knew right then that he was one of those corporate types who say they have no problem with gay people, as long as the gay people never kiss or hold hands or talk about their boyfriends, and just fade into the background.”
This book is a well-executed mystery, leaving enough clues to allow you to figure things out before the characters, but not so much that it’s obvious. It’s unapologetically queer, and it’s the sex ed class you didn’t get in school. Seeing something like this released by a major publishing house makes me very happy, and I hope to see it receive all the support it deserves.