When I first came across Jack of Hearts (and other parts) I thought it was probably going to be one of those books that’s important, but would end up being a pretty average read – not terrible, but not stand out either. Oh boy was I wrong! It was absolutely everything I was hoping for and more!
Let’s get something out of the way right now: Jack of Hearts (and other parts) contains graphic descriptions of gay sex. It’s raw, it’s unapologetic and it’s real. It keeps all of the ‘gross’ or embarrassing bits in too, so if that’s not your thing, you might not like this review (or the book) because I personally think it’s needed and refreshing and I loved it. This book is the sex-ed class you didn’t get in school. It’s honest, brutally honest. Nothing is ever sugar-coated, but it’s positive and life-affirming without ever being preachy or fake.
The plot of Jack of Hearts (I’m shortening it to that from now on!) follows Jack Rothman, who is out, loud and proud and casual sex is his thing. He’s got the exact kind of reputation you’d expect someone like him to have in school but he doesn’t care. He lives his life, his truth. He “turns in to the skid” of his reputation and begins to write a sex advice column for his friend’s website. Once this gets some traction, Jack starts to receive pink origami notes containing threats that will force his hand to react to protect those that he cares about.
I have to admit, I really related to Jack. Not the gay-man part, because I’m a bi-woman. But his openness to sex and sexuality, and complete lack of fucks about what others think about his lifestyle, was me when I was younger. My lifestyle was similar (although not identical – I mean, cucumber sandwiches and champagne as part of a pre-game plan?! – Nah mate, I ain’t that fancy) and seeing it praised instead of vilified, IF that’s your chosen way to live, was so refreshing.
” ‘Please?’ she says in a slightly begging voice. ‘You can use it on your college applications.’
‘How’s that going to look? ‘Told people how to suck dick.’ That’s some serious Harvard material.’ “
As you can probably tell, I’m quite a sex-positive person. So naturally I think that Jack of Hearts is essential reading due to its content. I firmly believe that the sex, and the sex advice, in this book is needed on YA shelves. It just is. Not just gay sex, sex in general. Teenagers have sex. That’s a fact. If they are not exposed to good, safe, practical and honest sex advice, things can go wrong, experiences can be awful and futures can be altered. If books (and consumable media in general) don’t reflect the audience they are intended for, what’s the point?
L C Rosen’s Voice (Via Jack) is a much needed one in YA. It’s frank, open, honest and accepting. Jack is very explorative and open, but he’s charming and funny and simply the cutest. Anyone who isn’t sure of themselves – or anyone who might be struggling to accept someone else in their life – should read this to give clarity and encourage acceptance. Almost everything is covered, from ‘vanilla’ sex, to BDSM and all the way through to abstinence and asexuality.
Whilst we are speaking of different sexual tastes and kinks, there are going to be people who condemn Jack of Hearts because of its open discussion of sex. In fact, I’ve seen it already in some reviews. There are people who say that it’s dangerous to promote anything other than ‘normal’ sex (whatever that is) but fuck those people – they’re idiots. I want to talk about the people who have condemned Jack of Hearts the ‘mixed signals’ in the book.
I’ve seen a few reviews saying that the safe sex messages are great (which they are) but are slamming the book for scenes of drinking until the blackout-drunk stage. True, that’s not exactly great- but Jack of Hearts never glamourizes it and in all honesty, it happens. I can personally attest to that (probably a few too many times, what can I say, I was young and stupid but I was having a lot of fun!), It’s part of growing up, life is not without risk and we all make stupid mistakes – just like Jack. But they aren’t a constant, they are occasional. I want to address these people with the same phrase I used earlier: If books (and consumable media in general) don’t reflect the audience they are intended for, what’s the point?
I have never read a book like Jack of Hearts before. I’ve never read a book that addresses sex (of any kind or sexuality) with such an immense amount of honesty and exploring such complexity with such simplicity. However I do have to admit that some of the book read as if the characters were a bit older, think 18 years old instead of 15/16 ish.
“It feels like I have glitter in me. Like I used to have glitter in me – my blood and skin and hair and eyes – and I was special, because I fucking sparkled. And then it drained out, and I forgot to refill it for a while, but now it’s back. I took a big hit of glitter. And now I’m sparkling again. I know, I know, it’s super gay. But so am I.”
Speaking of the characters, I absolutely adored the characters in Jack of Hearts. Jack in particular has my heart (my other parts would be wasted on him)! He’s completely genuine and he was a joy to read. There was great character development and the pacing was incredible well done. However I was pretty annoyed with Jack for not wanting to go to the police, or to tell his mum about what was going on. I just couldn’t buy the ‘you-were-asking-for-it’ excuse and it’s pretty obvious who the note-sender was (including for Jack if he actually thought about it) and they weren’t exactly threatening in real life.
The book was mostly positive towards sexuality and sex, but I do have to admit, there was a bit too much straight-bashing going on. Some of it was coming from the head of the ‘gay-straight alliance’ at the school and it was just a little uncomfortable and jarring at times. It just seemed like it didn’t fit with the overall message of positivity and acceptance.
Just as an aside – I’ve seen two covers for Jack of Hearts and the one with the human model is a just a little bit too cringe for me, but I love the other one – except that the notes are red?! Wait what? Why aren’t they pink? I know, I know – don’t judge a book by its cover, but come on! The whole thing was PINK notes! Just seems daft to me.
“I live the stereotype. I don’t mind. That’s me. Doesn’t mean it’s everybody. Plenty of guys I’ve fucked pass for stereotypically straight, but no one goes around saying they’re in the straight closet or whatever. And most of them suck cock just as good as the flaming faggots. Stereotypes exist because some people conform to them, but the moment you start assuming that everyone conforms to then, you’re a homophobe, or a racist or whatever.”
Jack of Hearts is guaranteed to piss a few people off, ruffle a few feathers and make it to a few banned lists. Which is a shame, because it is a truly heart-warming book when all is said and done. It’s rude and crass and over-the-top sometimes (and definitely should be aimed at the older YA market!), but it’s also sweet, empowering and endlessly positive. It doesn’t just promote sex-positive and safe sex, it promotes self-worth and self-confidence as well as living your life and celebrating individuality.
Sex in YA novels is quite taboo – and hopefully books like this will help bring an end to that.
Jack of Hearts is out, loud and proud and screams that it’s OK to be who you are. And I am here for that and will always support that message!
” ‘Oh, no, he’s not like that.’ She shakes her head. ‘I just…I wanted to know I wasn’t a freak for thinking about it.’
‘Oh.’ I inhale on the word. ‘Honey, no. It’s your body. You get to do whatever you want with it – try whatever you want.’ “
Let Jack capture your heart and enjoy a truly important book at the same time! You can buy it here!
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review. I received an arc in exchange for an honest review, however this did not influence my review – all the opinions are honest and my own.