Jacky Ha-Ha Gets the Last Laugh


By James Patterson

By Chris Grabenstein

Illustrated by Kerascoet

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Jacky Ha-Ha is off to theater camp and funnier than ever in this hilarious illustrated novel from James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein's #1 New York Times bestselling series.

Jacky Hart finally knows the thrill of having people laugh with her (not at her). She tries to put her comedy and theater skills to use in her summer job, but the boardwalk crowds aren’t exactly adoring. So Jacky jumps at the opportunity of a lifetime: an all-expense paid trip to theater camp!

When Jacky gets to Camp Footlights, she realizes she’s way out of her depth. The highly trained campers all seem to know everything about performing, and exactly how to command the spotlight. All Jacky wants is to prove she fits in, but the more she tries, the more she stands out—and not in a good way. With help from her new friends, can Jacky Ha-Ha earn her place in the spotlight…or will she flop?

Packed with illustrations, jokes, and hijinks, the latest book in the #1 bestselling Jacky Ha-Ha series delivers a hilarious and heartwarming dose of summer fun, perfect for reading all year round!



Okay, girls, like I said, it’s still the summer of 1991. I’m twelve years old.

It’s August. What they call “the dog days.” It’s so hot, cows are giving evaporated milk. It’s so hot, New York City asked the Statue of Liberty to lower her arm. It’s so hot, I’m panting like Sandfleas, our dog, and wishing I could shed my fur the way she does every summer. I also wouldn’t mind splashing around in my little sister Emma’s kiddie pool.

Fortunately, the Super Soaker squirt gun was everywhere in 1991. Very refreshing.

And, in August 1991, the minimum wage is $4.25 per hour.

I know this because that’s how much my boss, Vinnie, is paying me at the Balloon Race booth on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, where I have a summer job. It’s a pretty goofy game. You aim a metal squirt gun at a clown’s tiny mouth. When you nail the spinning target between his teeth, a balloon attached to the pointy tip of the clown’s hat starts to inflate. First balloon to get blown up so big that it actually blows up wins.

Now, as you might recall, June and July were filled with excitement, intrigue, and romance. I was in a professional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring the international superstar Latoya Sherron (I think she hangs out with Mariah Carey on a regular basis). I helped my dad bust a notorious graffiti tagger. And, fortunately, not much of that romantic junk happened to me in June or July. Cupid’s arrow bull’s-eyed my big sisters Hannah (she’s fourteen), Victoria (she’s fifteen), and Sophia (the second-oldest, she’s eighteen).

In August, all of that is over. Well, not all the romances. Some of those are still going on. (I know, gross.)

But my Dream show family has scattered. There is nothing fun or exciting to look forward to. Just another long month of hot work, setting up balloons and squirt guns for all the tourists flocking to Seaside Heights for their summer vacations. After that? School! BLEH. (Well, except for the drama club. And my friends. And those corn dogs in the cafeteria…)

Did I mention that we’re having a horrible heat wave?

At nine o’clock in the morning, it’s already ninety-some degrees with ninety percent humidity. My T-shirt is permanently glued to my spine with sweat. There’s no breeze—just swarms of vicious, skin-biting flies known as greenheads.

By noon, I’m afraid I might melt. My hair is so damp and stringy, it looks like I’m wearing a wet mop on my head. My spiel to attract customers has lost most of its zing and all of its sparkle.

“Win a Tweety for your sweetie,” I drone wearily. “Take home a Bart for your sweetheart. Step right up and squirt a clown. Show Bozo there’s a new sheriff in town.”

Finally, I have eight sweaty shooters all lined up.

I have an audience! The show must go on and so must I!

I bop the button and ring the bell. Water gushes through hoses and up into the pistols. In a flash, there are eight jets of cool, refreshing liquid arcing from the nozzles of the squirt guns to the clown targets four feet away. I imagine I am in Rome! My Balloon Race booth becomes the Trevi Fountain from the Oscar-winning movie Three Coins in the Fountain!

I start singing, pretending I’m that Jersey Shore favorite, Frank Sinatra.

Three coins in the fountain!” I warble.

The crowd gawks at me, their jaws hanging open. Clearly, they are mesmerized and demand more!

As I sing on, I skip and twirl and dance my way up and down the water fountain firing line, tossing pennies over my shoulder. I’m also getting totally soaked by the players, pausing to let some of the squirt gun water shoot directly into my mouth instead of a clown’s. I’m having a blast getting blasted.

And then, like always, I go too far. I add a coin-flinging spin. A very balletic pirouette.

All that water that’s splashing off me is also pooling and puddling on the floor.

I slip.

I fall.

I land on my butt.

Now half the boardwalk is laughing. Not with me. At me.

Yep. It’s just like when I was back in pre-K and stuttered every time I tried to say my name. Jacky Hart came out as Jacky Ha-Ha-Ha-Hart, which is how, thanks to some five-year-old bullies named Bubblebutt and Ringworm, I quickly became known as Jacky Ha-Ha. That nickname stuck with me like bubblegum on the sole of my shoe.

And the shooter at the counter laughing the loudest when I slip and fall?

It’s Bubblebutt.


Okay, Bubblebutt’s real name is Bob Brownkowski, and believe it or not, in the summer of 1991, he’s trying his hardest to reform his ways and become a decent human being.

He’s still a big, beefy kid who buys his clothes off what JCPenney calls the “husky” rack, but he’s no longer the bully he was back in kindergarten, when he hung me upside down on the jungle gym with my nose hovering six inches above a fire-ant mound. Bob actually helped me out that summer. His old friend and partner-in-bullying Ringworm? Not so much.

Anyway, I can’t blame Bob for laughing at me like that. Even though I look completely ridiculous, I don’t want to stand back up. This shaded puddle of water on the balloon booth floor is very refreshing. Like a waterbed filled with ice cubes.

But I have to get back to work. Vinnie isn’t paying me that whopping four and a quarter bucks an hour to sit on my butt. That’s his job. He has a squeaky stool with a foam rubber seat patched with duct tape that he perches on all summer long.

Bob leans over the counter to give me a hand and hoists me up to my feet.

“Thanks, Bob,” I say.

“No problemo, Jacky,” he says.

I sniff my hand. It smells like Calvin Klein cologne. I think Bob collects those scented sample cards that fall out of magazines and rubs them on his face whenever he casually drops by my booth to pop a few balloons.

“Hey, Bob?” I say. “What’re you doing later on?”

He shrugs. “I dunno.” I think he’s playing it cool. Maybe he read about doing that in one of those scented magazines.

All day long, while I’ve been doing my spiel and setting up the balloon races, I’ve been staring at the T-Shirt Hut on the other side of the boardwalk. The usual suspects are there. The STUPID and I’M WITH STUPID shirts with their pointing fingers. The shirts that say FBI: FULL-BLOODED ITALIAN. Cartoon character shirts.

But one really catches my eye. It has a funny quote emblazoned on its chest:


Yes, that’s where I have my major aha moments in life: the T-shirt racks of a souvenir shop.

That shirt really speaks to me. Everything snaps into focus.

Who am I trying to kid? I’m never going to be a Shakespearean actor with a phony British accent. That isn’t the real me. The whole Midsummer Night’s Dream thing was a fluke. And, yes, I’ve been in a show with Latoya Sherron, but I’m never going to be the next Latoya Sherron.

I need to be me.

Jacqueline Hart. Daughter of Mac and Sydney Hart. A kid from a Jersey Shore town who’ll never be much more than a kid from a Jersey Shore town, and unlike that other Jersey Shore kid known as the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, I don’t think I’m born to run. I was born to stay. I’m a boardwalk barker. A practical joker. A class clown cutup.

Once, at a 7-Eleven, I pumped mustard and pickle relish into the bottom of a Slurpee cup, sprinkled that gunk with salt and pepper, swirled in a frosty red slush pile from the Slurpee dispenser, stuck in a straw, and gave it to my friend Bill Phillips. When he sucked in a little taste of that custom-crafted smooth refresher, he started gacking. I claimed it was a new flavor: Cherry Mustard Pickle Pepper.

I thought I was hysterical. Bill didn’t. Neither did my best friend, Meredith.

But I was just being me. The only me I know how to be.

It’s like I have a little angel and devil sitting on opposite shoulders. The devil is constantly poking and prodding me to do wild stuff—like that Slurpee stunt. Meanwhile, the angel on my other shoulder seems to enjoy taking time off. Sometimes, she’s just not there to steer me in the right direction. I think she watches a lot of TV.

Anyway, it’s so unrelentingly hot and humid and stifling and boring, I know I need to do something to shake things up. I need to break out of the dog day doldrums.

So I tell Bob to meet me when I get off work that afternoon. He does.

“Let’s do something ka-ray-zee,” I tell him as I step out of the booth at five.

“Okay,” says Bob. He’s up for anything. “How about we dare each other to eat one of everything on the boardwalk?”

I shake my head. “Been there. Done that.”

Just then, the devil perched on my shoulder has a really good, horrible idea.

“But… how about we eat something greasy and ride a ride. Then we eat something worse and ride another ride?”

Bob’s goofy grin widens—all the way across his face. “I like it. We keep going until one of us pukes. Instead of a Battle of the Bands, we’ll have a Battle of the Barfs.”

I shake his hand. “Whoever blows chunks first loses!”


“Game on!”

I can’t wait. This is going to be the best boardwalk day ever!


Bob and I have a blast eating our way up and down the boardwalk.

Come on, who doesn’t love an Italian sausage sandwich? It’s a soggy hoagie bun stuffed with spiced pork, greasy grilled peppers (green and red for the Italian flag), and glassy (also greasy) onion slices.

“Give me mine with sweet sausage,” I tell the guy scooting and scraping all the ingredients around with a spatula on a sputtering grill.

“Nuh-uh,” says Bob. “Hot and spicy. Two of ’em.”

Oooh. He’s upping the stakes. The guy is serious about this barf-a-thon.

“Challenge accepted,” I say.

We wolf down our sandwiches and, feeling bloated, hurry to the Mad Mouse roller coaster.

It’s a tight track with wicked sharp turns. Every time you fly into a curve, you think you’re going to rocket off the edge and die. Just when you recover, the little mouse car whips into another turn, throws you another curve, and you think you’re about to die all over again.

It’s a blast.

It also returns those Italian sausage sandwiches to the backs of our throats. We get to taste it all over again, but neither one of us hurls, heaves, or tosses our cookies.

We move on to a pizza stand.

Bob ups the stakes, again. “No slices, Jacky. We each have to eat a whole calzone!”

Calzones are like folded-over pizza dough popovers stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheese plus salami and ham. Talk about a belly bomb.

We each choke one down.

Next ride—the swinging pirate ship.

It’s an open gondola, designed to look like, you guessed it, a pirate ship. It swings back and forth. Back and forth. Higher and higher. It’s kind of like being on a seesaw and a swing at the same time.

The ride glides to its end and we stumble out of our seats.

But I do not spew the spumoni. Neither does Bob.

So it’s time for dessert.

We go to a bakery that sells giant cookies the size of manhole covers. These jumbo chocolate chip cookies are topped with sprinkles and chunks of other cookies: Oreos, Nutter Butters, Animal Crackers, Chips Ahoy.

We break the cookie in two and share it.

Bob looks a little green around the gills as we waddle up the boardwalk to the next ride. I catch my reflection in a mirror at the top of a rotating sunglasses display. I look even greener. We’re talking Kermit the Frog green.

All of a sudden, our “best boardwalk day ever” doesn’t feel so besty anymore.


You wanna call it a tie?” groans Bob as we make our way to our next ride: the dreaded Gravitron.

I shake my head. “Nope. A tie is like kissing your sister.”

“Which one?” says Bob, wiggling his eyebrows. “You’ve got a bunch of ’em!”

That earns Bob a knuckle punch in the arm.

“I deserved that,” he says.

He’s right. He did.

If any ride is going to make one of us lose our lunch (or early supper), it’ll be the Gravitron.

It’s decorated to look like a spaceship, but it’s basically a big whirling barrel.

It reminds me of the spin cycle in a washing machine.

The barrel reaches a rotation rate of twenty-four rpm in a flash—less than twenty seconds. All that rotating creates centrifugal force—an outward pull that glues you to the padded walls like a limp pair of soggy socks. Once you’re pinned in place, the floor drops out from beneath your feet.

Bob and I take side-by-side positions.

“Good luck, Jacky,” he says. Then he belches. His breath smells like salami, pepperoni, garlic, peanut butter, and Animal Crackers. It’s pretty gross. Until I burp and smell my own breath. It’s worse. There are definitely Tic Tacs in my future. Maybe a whole rattling box of ’em.

The ride starts up.

In no time, we’re both glued to the wall. My stomach is being pulled back toward my spine. My cheeks are flapping. I feel like I’m undergoing NASA astronaut training, which, by the way, is probably like swimming. You shouldn’t do it for an hour after eating.

My legs feel like rubber noodles when, finally, the barrel spins to a stop and the exit doors slide open.

We stumble out to the boardwalk.

Bob doesn’t barf.

But I do.

I lurch forward and retch up everything. I literally blow chunks. Chocolate chip chunks. Sausage hunks. Calzone lumps. A colorful reminder of all the delicious food I’ve snarfed down in less than an hour.

And I’m not looking where I’m spewing.

I’m just bent over, wishing there was a toilet in the middle of the boardwalk instead of some dude.

All I see are his knobby knees, his socks, and his Nikes.

And the mess I’m making all over the tips of his kicks.

Finally, when I feel like I’ve heaved my last load, I look up.

It’s Bill Phillips.

He of the crazy-gorgeous hazel eyes. The boy that I have a kind-of, sort-of crush on. Hey, I’m twelve going on thirteen. It’s summer. It happens. Even to me.

“Uh, hi, Bill.” Bob says it first. “Just so you know, bro—Jacky and I aren’t on a date or anything.”

The way he says it, it sounds like I mean, why would anybody in their right mind want to go on a date with Jacky Ha-Ha?

My mouth is too gross for me to speak. So I give Bill a finger-wiggle wave and a sad puppy dog look to say sorry. And not just for what I did to his shoes. (His Air Jordans look like Scare Jordans.)

“Well, Jacky, I gotta book,” says Bob. “Let’s do this again. Not!”

He runs away as fast as he can.

Bill slides the sides of his sneaks along the boardwalk planks. That scrapes off the big stuff. Then he dumps his jumbo-sized soda and ice on the mess to wash it away.

“Wish I’d brought along one of the squirt guns from the Balloon Race booth,” I try to joke, which is much harder to do when you’re feeling queasy and smelling cheesy.

Bill steps back a pace or two. I think he just got a whiff of my Jif, to borrow a line from a peanut butter commercial.

Bill shakes his head. I think he’s disappointed in me. Not as disappointed as I am in myself, but close.

“Haven’t you played this scene before?” he asks.

“Yeah. A couple times.”


“Yeah, Bill?”

“I think you might need a new script.”

Yes, girls. Your father was always the wisest, smartest—not to mention sweetest—boy in the whole state of New Jersey, even when we were twelve.


Things are hot and boring for me and my sisters at home, too.

There are six of us Hart girls currently residing in Seaside Heights. Think of us as Little Women down the Jersey Shore. Only none of us owns an ankle-length dress or a shoulder cape.

Which is a good thing. Dad didn’t put the AC units in the windows of our tiny beach bungalow this summer. Our house is an oven. My parents are saving money because, even though Dad already has an offer to become a full-time cop right after Labor Day, in August he’s still working as a very low-paid “auxiliary cop.” The SHPD doesn’t even issue him a real police hat. Just a navy blue baseball cap.

Meanwhile, Mom, back from her service in Iraq (the First Gulf War, the one they called Desert Storm), is going to cop school at a nearby community college. She is earning zero dollars a week but spending a bunch of money on books and other college stuff.

That’s why any Hart girl who is old enough to have a work permit also has a summer job on the boardwalk.

In addition to our day jobs, my sisters and I are in charge of housecleaning and meal prep. Even on days when, according to the radio, it’s “steamy, sweltering, and sweaty.”

“It’s so muggy out, you can wear the air while it frizzes your hair!” says Hannah, cooling herself off in front of the open refrigerator. Hannah is fourteen and super-sweet. She’s working her dream job at the Fudgery. Well, it was a dream until they started docking her paycheck for the free samples she kept nibbling. “How else am I supposed to know what all the different flavors taste like?” she asked her bosses.

They told her to use her imagination.

“Quit your bellyaching, Hannah,” barks Emma. “Oorah! We need to whip this house into tip-top condition fifteen minutes prior to fifteen minutes prior!” Emma is six. We call her the Little Boss. Our mom was a marine. We think Emma might’ve inherited every single one of Mom’s marine genes.

Victoria (don’t you dare call her Vickie) is fifteen going on fifty. She thinks the rest of us are “sooooo immature.” She has a job at Willy B. Williams’s Taffy Shoppe. She also has an opinion about everything because, well, she already knows everything there is to know. Someday, I think they might name the local library after her. She’s their biggest reader.

“Everybody?” Victoria says between flicks of her feather duster. “Just a quick reminder: Be sure to circle May twenty-third on your calendars.”

“Why?” I ask, because somebody has to. “This is August. It won’t be May again until next year.”

“But, you guys? May twenty-third is National Taffy Day!”

“Seriously?” says Sophia. “How does everybody celebrate? By combing sticky clumps of goo out of their hair?”

Sophia is eighteen and the second-oldest or, as she likes to put it, the “oldest sister still living at home,” because Sydney, who’s nineteen, is in college at Princeton, which is also in New Jersey, by the way. Sophia has found her “one true love” at least a dozen times. Just this summer.

Then there’s Riley. She’s eleven. One year younger than me. That’s why I kind of feel sorry for her. Technically, she should look up to me. See me as a role model. But, as Bob or Bill or that devil on my shoulder will gladly tell you, I can be a very bad influence. I know I sure wouldn’t want to be my little sister.

Anyway, after a hard day of work, we’re all putting in another few hard hours of housework. Under the stern and unblinking eye of Emma, we’re scrubbing toilets, dusting every dustable surface, vacuuming sand out of the rugs, and mopping more sand off the floors. Sandfleas, our beloved mutt, is right there with us. She likes to chase the mop and snarl at the vacuum.

But everybody’s exhausted. And sweaty. Yes, all our shorts are currently sweatshorts; our shirts, sweatshirts. Our un-air-conditioned house is a sauna.

“I can’t take this anymore,” moans Hannah.

“Yes you can, worm!” barks Emma. She’s definitely drill sergeant material. “Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why they call it work!”

Emma gives me an idea.

Maybe work can be fun! We could turn our chores into a song-and-dance routine, like something out of a Broadway musical! We can choreograph our cleaning moves to a cool tune. So I dig through Mom and Dad’s collection of records (those are round vinyl things that make music when you scratch a needle through their grooves—look it up).

I find the perfect tune: “Car Wash” by Rose Royce. It’s the Golden Globe–nominated original song from the 1976 movie Car Wash starring Richard Pryor and George Carlin. (I’m guessing Mom and Dad saw it on a date or something, back when Dad was Mac Hart, “the best-looking boy on the beach,” and thanks to Mom, he had the T-shirt to prove it.)

I spin the disc and crank up the volume.

“Come on, Hart girls!” I shout. “I need everybody to get up, get up, get up! I need some en-er-gy! Come on, now!”

Before long, we’re all movin’ and shakin’, dancing our way through the drudgery.

The whole house is white-glove clean in less than an hour. We’re ready for inspection.

But Dad has to work a double shift. And Mom has to hit the college library.

We’re on our own for dinner.

“How about pizza?” I suggest with a wink to Emma. “Cheese pizza.”

Cheese pizza is the only kind my six-year-old sister will eat. And usually, it’s her first food choice. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

“No,” she says, stomping her feet on the squeaky-clean floor. “It’s too darn hot.”

Wow. Emma saying no to pizza? I guess there’s a first time for everything.

“O-kay,” I say. “How about cereal? It’s nice and cold.”

“Yes!” everybody agrees.

So we have a Froot Loops and Fruity Pebbles feast!

And while we’re all gathered around the table eating, a true miracle takes place.


  • Praise for Jacky Ha-Ha:

    A #1 New York Times Bestseller!
    A Parents' Choice Award Winner!
    A National Parenting Products Award Winner!
  • "Jacky is the best yet. Fun, smart, emotionally engaging, Jacky is a character that young readers will love spending time with." --- Kirkus Reviews
  • "Readers will find Jacky entertaining....[T]he art is playful and fun....[T]his title is sure to have high circulation among fans of Patterson's previous works." --- School Library Journal
  • "The story is stuffed with page-turning pranks...and the swoopy b&w cartoons from Kerascoët...only add to Jacky's untamed energy....[T]he novel is sure to amuse and encourage readers who don't have it all figured out just yet." --- Publisher's Weekly
  • "Smart, funny, and immensely likable, Jacky is a colorful narrator and an increasingly interesting character, and her struggles will strike a chord with many readers." --- Booklist

  • "James Patterson has figured out the formula for writing entertaining books for tween readers. Jacky is a wildly engaging character. [The story is] great fun." --- Parents' Choice

  • "Jacky is a genuinely likable and funny protagonist... Kerascoët's black and white illustrations are full of verve and energy, as cartoonish Jacky careens her way through life." --- BCCB

On Sale
Mar 6, 2023
Page Count
320 pages

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

Learn more at jamespatterson.com

Learn more about this author