Todays book is definitely on the A section of YA – and is all the better for it. Definitely aimed at the over sixteens, Jack of Hearts is definitely the book I would have devoured at that age, and found useful beyond measure.
This novel brings us a cool and original central character, Jack, who is a sex positive, completely out, somewhat feminine young man. He is unapologetic in his enjoyment of sex and categorically refuses to respond to over inflated, scandalised rumours of his conquests (and there are more than a few of both). He understands that not everyone will like him or be comfortable with him and the way he chooses to express his identity and sexuality, and is himself anyway.
One of his best friends, Jenna, has a blog about the teens in their community – and wants to capitalise on that reputation to firstly help dispel some of the wilder rumours, but also to educate local teens both about sex and LGBTQ+ issues.
He reluctantly agrees and the book periodically gives us Jacks column, in the form of answers to the questions posed by readers.
This is all well and good until he gets a mystery admirer, who leaves notes in his locker, that start as unsettling and quickly become terrifying. Who is doing this? Why? And how far will their delusions take them into Jack’s personal life?
This book is a delight. The frank look at gay teenage sexuality is refreshing and the column excerpts raise and advise on issues such as consent, empathy, sexual etiquette, the bizarre stereotyping and fetishisation of gay men by some teenage girls and much more.
There’s a sweet burgeoning romance for Jack’s other best friend Ben, with a meaningful and true friendship depicted between the three very different teens. The depiction of Jack’s emotionally withdrawn mother is all too realistic for today’s teen, and the reveal of the stalker, while not the point of the book at all, is deftly handled if a little rushed and clunky.
You don’t see a full and frank discussion of sex in most YA books, reflecting real life for many, where sexual acts can be recreational – rather than part of a great love story, or a supernaturally predestined Great Love.
In lieu of actual sex education in secondary/sixth form institutions, teens could do a lot worse than check out this charming YA debut.