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Jacky Ha-Ha: My Life Is a Joke
By Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Kerascoet
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Don’t miss Jacky’s hilarious new adventure, Jacky Ha-Ha Gets the Last Laugh!
It’s the summer of 1991.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys are huge. So is Rollerblade Barbie. What are Rollerblades? Don’t worry, you don’t need to know. Unless you want to twist your ankle, sprain your butt, and scrape most of the skin off your elbows like I did.
Everybody is saying “Hasta la vista, baby” to each other, and not just in Spanish class, because Ah-nold Schwarzenegger said it in a movie called Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
In fact, 1991 started out pretty good, especially if you ignored Boyz II Men on the radio. (Yep, they were a thing. And that II? It’s supposed to be a Roman numeral two, not an eleven.)
In March, Mom came home from Operation Desert Shield, which turned into Operation Desert Storm—a war that, thankfully, only lasted, like, six weeks. Now she’s back in charge of running the Hart house.
Did I mention my mom, Big Sydney Hart, was a marine? (She’s Big because my sister Little Sydney is named after her.)
“I want to see those dishes shine, girls!” she tells us every night after dinner. “I want this galley to glisten!”
“Aye, aye!” we all say.
“Hoo-ah!” says Mom.
Emma, the youngest, who we used to call the Little Boss, is now the Little Echo. She tells us to do whatever Mom just told us to do.
Things are humming along at school, too.
Yours truly hasn’t had a detention since I played Snoopy in the fall musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. If you knew me at all, you knew that me not having detention was a miracle!
I also did the spring show—You Can’t Take It with You. It was a comedy (yay!) and I played Essie Carmichael, a kooky candymaker who dreams of being a ballerina even though she’s a terrible dancer.
I was hysterical, girls. Your mother always was (and always will be) a terrible dancer. Terrible can be funny. Especially if it’s ballet.
So now it’s June, and life is pretty sweet. Mom’s home safe and sound. School’s almost over. I’m looking forward to a fun-in-the-sun Jersey Shore summer. The beach! The boardwalk! Bill Phillips!
Yes, he still has those crazy-gorgeous hazel eyes and I still have a kind-of, sort-of crush on him. Hey, I’m twelve going on thirteen. It’s summer. It happens.
My big plans when school’s out?
Goofing off. Lazing around. Hitting the beach. Doing a whole lot of nothing.
Unfortunately, Dad and Mom have different plans.
Girls?” says Mom when the dishes are cleaned, dried, and put away and she’s all out of hoo-ahs. “Your father will be home in fifteen minutes.”
“Should we have saved some chicken pot pie for him?” asks Hannah. She’s fourteen and super-sweet. “I would’ve skipped my second helping if I knew Dad was coming home in time to eat.…”
“What about the third helping?” asks Sophia. She’s eighteen and the second oldest or, as she likes to put it, the “oldest sister still living at home,” because Little Sydney, who’s nineteen, is in college at Princeton. Hannah and Sophia are both kind of boy-crazy. And sometimes, they’re both crazy about the same boy at the same time.
“If you want my opinion,” says Victoria, who’s only fifteen but already knows everything about anything, “it’s extremely rude for Sophia to count how many helpings of chicken pot pie Hannah had for dinner.”
That’s all Mom has to say. Especially when she cocks her left eyebrow up half an inch and gives us…
“Your father already had dinner with some colleagues at the diner,” says Mom.
“Good,” says Hannah. “But if he’s still hungry, he can have some of my fudge. I hid some under my pillow.…”
Yes, Hannah does that. A lot. Which is why, sometimes, she wakes up with melted chocolate in her ear.
“He’s fine, honey,” says Mom. “Your father and I need to see you all in the living room at nineteen hundred hours. Family meeting.”
“Nineteen hundred hours” is military speak for 7:00 p.m. I glance at the kitchen clock. It’s 6:46.
“Between now and then,” says Mom, “finish your homework. Dis-missed!”
Everybody bustles out of the kitchen except Riley and me. Riley’s eleven and is in the unfortunate position of being my next-younger sister. That means she looks up to me, which is not always the best or wisest move. (I wasn’t exactly a super-duper role model when I was twelve. Okay, I was probably the worst role model ever. A dinner roll would’ve been a better role model.)
“What do you think’s going on?” Riley asks.
“I don’t know!” I pretend to panic. “The suspense is killing me. Literally!” I bring my hands up to my throat, bug out my eyes, and act like I’ve just swallowed poison, then collapse to the ground. “Gak! I’m dead! Killed by suspense.”
I take a little bow.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “It’s probably something good. Hey, maybe now that Mom is home, we’re all going somewhere cool for a family vacation.”
“Do you think it’s Disney World?” gasps Riley, her eyes going wide.
She’s been wanting to go to Disney World ever since she saw the New Kids on the Block Wildest Dreams special on TV. (FYI—New Kids on the Block were the big boy band back in the 1990s. They were sort of like whoever’s replaced Justin Bieber and One Direction on your lunch boxes.)
“I hope so,” I tell Riley.
Dad arrives home at 6:59, on the dot. We all assemble in the living room.
“Girls?” he says. “I have some terrific news.”
“We’re going to Disney World?” Riley blurts out, sounding like a Super Bowl commercial.
“Not this summer, dear,” says Mom. “Your father has a new job!”
“You’re not going to head up the lifeguards?” I say.
“No, ma’am,” says Dad, taking Mom’s hand. “In fact, I am taking the first steps on the road to my dream job.”
“You’re going to be a cop?” gushes sweet Hannah. “Oh, Dad, that is so wonderful! All your hard work, all your studying, all your nights away from home…”
It’s true. Dad worked really hard studying to take his police officer exam. So hard, we hardly ever saw him last fall. Some of us even got a little suspicious about where he was going all the time. (That would’ve been me.)
“Congratulations, Father,” says Victoria.
“Woo-hoo!” I say, giving Dad a hearty arm pump.
Emma just races across the room and hugs his leg.
Dad laughs. “Thank you, ladies. I couldn’t have done it without your support.”
“And,” says Mom, “he won’t be able to continue doing it without your continued support.”
“That’s right, girls,” says Dad. “I know school’s nearly over. That you all had big plans for the summer.”
Dad just said “had.” As in, past tense.
That means we probably shouldn’t have them anymore.
Seaside Heights, New Jersey, is a shore town.
That means, starting in June, when the tourists and day-trippers descend on our sandy beaches, the population will swell from the twenty-four hundred people who actually live here to the twenty or thirty thousand who come here to play, eat junk food, show off their tans, and cool off in the surf. That also means the police department needs some extra, summer-only help.
“I am now a Seasonal Class One officer with the Seaside Heights Police Department,” Dad proudly announces.
“And,” adds Mom, “if things go well this summer, we’re pretty sure your father will be offered a full-time job on the force right after Labor Day.”
“One seasonal officer typically is,” says Dad, bouncing up on the balls of his feet like he’s so happy he could burst. “My days of heading up the lifeguarding crew are over, ladies.”
“Hoo-ah!” says Mom. Then they hug.
This was great news for Dad, also known as the best-looking boy on the beach. Mac Hart was inching closer to living his dream, doing the thing he wanted to do more than anything in the world—especially since his professional baseball career was cut short after he met Mom, hung up his cleats, and had seven kids, all girls. If Mom and Dad had played with us, we could have been our own softball team.
“Eventually,” says Mom, “the police department job will give your father a nice salary.”
“And benefits!” says Dad.
Yep. There’s always a but. And this but sounds like a big one.
“… this seasonal position will not pay well at all.”
Dad nods. “The pay stinks.”
“And there are no benefits,” says Mom.
“Plus, I have to buy my own uniforms.”
“What about your pistol?” asks Sophia. “Do you have to buy that, too?”
“Seasonal officers don’t carry sidearms,” says Dad. “Mostly, we write parking tickets. Help out with traffic congestion. Check beach badges. That sort of thing.”
“And,” says Mom, “because my dream is also to, one day, become a police officer, I have enrolled in an eight-week, intensive summer training program at the community college. Just like the one your father took last fall.”
“So,” says Dad, “your mother will not be pulling down a salary at all for two months.”
“I won’t be able to do as much cooking, cleaning, and childcare, either,” she adds.
Now they both look at us.
“We need your help, kids,” says Mom.
“We need you girls to find jobs this summer,” says Dad. “All of you who are old enough to work need to bring home a steady paycheck.”
“Otherwise,” says Mom, “we may not be able to afford groceries.”
Hannah gasps when she hears that. She likes to eat. Then again, so do I.
“We’re also going to need some help in the babysitting department,” says Dad, looking to Emma. She’s six. No way is anybody hiring her this summer. At least, not legally. New Jersey has child labor laws. You have to be twelve to get your working papers.
“You girls will need to take turns looking after your youngest sister,” says Mom. “And walking Sandfleas.”
Sandfleas is our dog. She’s a girl, too.
“What about me?” asks Riley.
“You’re eleven,” says Dad. “You’ll have to look after yourself and help around the house.”
“And,” says Mom, “if Jacky can’t find a job, she can help you.”
My lazy, hazy, crazy plans for the summer have just been put on hold. I’ll either be working or I’ll be the chief cook, floor scrubber, toilet swisher, and babysitter at home.
So much for fun in the sun.
Mom and Dad were the first ones to tell me that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Maybe not, but it sure sounded like us kids would have to work—every day during our so-called summer vacation.
“The shops and booths along the boardwalk are always hiring summer help,” says Mom. “Plus, you can learn a lot holding down a job. It’ll be a good experience for all of you.”
“And,” says Dad, “you can keep half of your take-home pay.”
That sounds better.
“But,” says Mom, “all allowances will forthwith be suspended until after Labor Day.”
Okay. Maybe not so much.
Because if we want pocket change for ice cream, video games, CDs, movie tickets, popcorn, Slurpees, bubble gum, new swimsuits—all the essentials of summer life—we have to go out and earn it. Our ride on the Mom and Dad gravy train is over.
By the way, why would anybody want to haul gravy around on a train? What’s up with that? Wouldn’t the gravy slosh up and over the sides of the cargo cars?
Anyhow, the next day, it’s back to school
The second I step through the front door, Ms. Katherine O’Mara, my favorite teacher, grabs me by the elbow.
“They need you in the office. Now!”
“Am I in trouble already?” I say. “How is that possible? It’s not even eight thirty.…”
“Lauren Furtado is out sick,” says Ms. O’Mara. “Mrs. Turner needs you to do the morning announcements.”
Lauren Furtado is this girl from the debate squad who has super-duper diction and an incredible speaking voice. My guess? Lauren Furtado will be enunciating stuff on talk radio the second she graduates from college with a degree in Very Proper Public Speaking.
No way do I want to take her place.
“No buts, Jacky,” says Ms. O’Mara. “It’s time for the understudy to go on.”
“B-b-but c-c-couldn’t y-y-you f-f-find s-s-someone else?”
That’s right. When the pressure’s on, I stutter.
Stuttering, of course, is how I got my nickname, Jacky Ha-Ha. When I was in pre-K, my tongue would trip all over itself and mangle my own last name. My old enemy Bubblebutt, a beefy kid who’s been a bully since he punched a Cabbage Patch Kid smack in the face in his baby days, heard me sputtering “Jacky Ha-Ha-Hart” during story time one afternoon and slapped the Jacky Ha-Ha label on me. It’s been stuck there like a KICK ME sign ever since.
“You’ll do fine, Jacky,” says Ms. O’Mara. “You’re every bit as talented as Lauren Furtado.”
Ms. O’Mara was a speech and theater major in college. She also appeared in the Broadway production of Annie when she was a kid. She’s helped me a lot, but the truth is whenever I have to do a cold reading (that’s whenever I have to read aloud a bunch of words I haven’t seen before or words I don’t understand), I forget everything I know about controlling my speech impediment and I skitter off the rails into Stutterville again!
Ms. O’Mara hurries me into the office.
Mrs. Turner, the assistant principal, who’s also been very good to me, is standing there smiling. Holding a microphone. She gestures to me.
I shake my head. “I’m n-n-no L-L-Lauren F-F-Furtado.”
“Oh, don’t underestimate yourself, Jacqueline!” says Mrs. Turner. She forces the microphone into my hand.
“Good luck!” whispers Ms. O’Mara. “Just take your time and be you.”
“Or Lauren Furtado,” says Mrs. Turner, handing me the script. “Lauren’s an excellent announcement reader. Just pretend you’re her or she’s you.…”
I look at the sheet of paper. It’s filled with words, words, words. Words I have never seen before. Words I don’t know how to pronounce.
One jumps out at me. On the birthday list I see an eighth grader named Debbie Swierczynski!
What do all those consonants even sound like all smooshed together like that?
“You’re on!” says Mrs. Turner.
My mouth is drier than it is after I eat a whole sleeve of saltines.
“Um, ‘Good morning, starshine,’” I tell the microphone. “‘The earth says hello.…’”
Okay. I’ve been listening to a ton of Broadway musical albums in my room lately. That line is from a song in Hair. Yes, once upon a time, there was a whole Broadway show about hair. I’m still waiting for one about toenail clippings.
Reciting lines I’ve memorized is an easy way to avoid my stutter.
“Stick to the script, Jacqueline,” whispers Mrs. Turner. “Lauren would.”
I take a deep breath and try to remember all the stuff Ms. O’Mara taught me to tame my stutter. Her most important advice? Take your time.
“Good… mor… ning… Sea… side… Heights… Mid… dle… School.”
I’m speaking slower than a turtle stuck in quicksand. I’m even taking pauses between syllables.
Mrs. Turner gives me the ol’ spinning finger. The universal signal for Let’s speed things up, shall we?
“H-h-happy b-b-birthday to…”
(That’s what I call my anticipatory stutter. My mouth knows what’s coming next and it isn’t happy about it.)
“… to… Deb-bie… S-S-Sewer… uh… Deb-bie Sw-sw-swerve… Sw-sw-sweerz… cuz-zzzzee… zzzin… zzzine… ska-nin-ski-zebra-ski-slope!”
Ms. O’Mara and Mrs. Turner are staring at me as if I’m a horror movie at the drive-in.
Or a car wreck.
Fortunately, Ms. O’Mara isn’t just my English teacher and mentor.
She’s also my friend.
She sees the panic swirling in my eyes. She can probably also see the flop-sweat stains spiraling around the armpits of my blouse. Heck, everybody can see those. They’re the size of Lake Erie.
She grabs the microphone.
“Jacky Hart?” she says. “You crack me up! You know how to pronounce Debbie’s last name.…”
“I do? I mean, yes. I do.”
“It’s Swierczynski,” says Ms. O’Mara perfectly.
“But you couldn’t resist doing a comic bit on it, could you?”
Ms. O’Mara nods at me. Okay. Now we’re improvising a scene. I don’t stutter when I’m playing a part in a scene. And the number one rule of improv is always to say yes and build on whatever your scene partner throws your way.
“Yeah. Sorry, Debbie. I wasn’t making fun of your name. I was just kicking off our school-wide celebration of National Consonants Week.”
“Yes, indeed,” says Ms. O’Mara.
Now that I’m doing something I’m comfortable with, I’m on a roll and keep going. “We just wanted to alert everyone to the danger of bumping too many consonants up against each other. This week, lend them a vowel, if you have one to spare.”
“Why, thank you, Jacky, for that very informative public service announcement.”
“Brought to you by me and the Ad Council,” I say, because I’ve heard announcers say that on TV.
Ms. O’Mara winks at me and takes over the real announcements.
Which is a good thing.
Because the next part is about the lunch menu. Creamy chipped beef on toast, corn, string beans, and a fruit cup.
Just reading that out loud might make me want to hurl.
Ms. O’Mara finishes reading the morning’s announcements.
“Now please rise and face the flag for the Pledge of Allegiance,” she says.
I put my hand over my heart (which is racing faster than a rabbit being chased by a pack of dogs being chased by a dinosaur) and recite the pledge flawlessly.
Because I’ve memorized the words.
That’s how I was able to play Snoopy in the fall musical and Essie in the spring comedy. I knew my lines. I had a character to hide behind. If I know what I’m doing, if I’ve rehearsed and prepared, if I’m improvising a comic bit with another actor, then I don’t freak out. I don’t stutter.
When the announcements are finished, Ms. O’Mara and I stroll up the hall together.
“Cold readings are always my least favorite, too,” she says.
“No, Jacky. I’m sorry. We shouldn’t’ve asked you to jump in like that. I just thought it might be fun for you. Like being a disc jockey or doing a radio drama…”
“I didn’t want to goof up and make a m-m-major m-m-mistake.”
“Jacky, remember what we said about mistakes when you’re onstage doing a show?”
“Unless you act like you goofed up, people in the audience, who haven’t been to any rehearsals or read the script, will never even know that you made a mistake.”
“Exactly. The same thing is true when you’re doing a cold reading. If you act like you know what you’re doing, no one will ever know if you don’t. You have to fake it until you make it. For instance, everybody at this school thinks I’m actually a teacher because I act like a teacher. Truth be told, I never studied teaching in college. I was a high school dropout. The only college I’ve ever attended is that one you see on TV where they teach you how to drive big-rig trucks.”
“Kidding. But I had you believing it because I acted like I believed it, too.”
That makes me laugh.
“See you in class,” says Ms. O’Mara as I stop at my locker.
“Okay. And I won’t tell anybody you’re a trucker, not a teacher.”
“Good. It’ll be our secret.”
She takes off. I work my combination.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see Bubblebutt and his sidekick, Ringworm, sidling up the hall. They’re both wearing black T-shirts with NI plastered across the front, for a heavy metal band named Nine Inch Nails.
Seriously. In 1991, that was a band, not something you bought at Home Depot if you were building a railroad.
Anyway, Bubblebutt is smiling.
Seeing Bubblebutt sauntering up the hall makes me nervous.
Like I said, he and Ringworm have been tormenting me since my Sesame Street and Muppet Babies days.
He’s here to make fun of me for stuttering through that birthday announcement!
Bubblebutt gives Ringworm an elbow to the ribs, telling him to beat it.
As always, Ringworm does what Bubblebutt’s elbow tells him to.
It’s just me and Bubblebutt. Alone. I snuffle the air. Bubblebutt smells like a magazine with a scratch-and-sniff Obsession by Calvin Klein cologne ad tucked inside it. I think he rubbed his face in it.
He’s smiling at me. Nicely.
What’s he up to?
“Uh, hello, Bob,” I say, because that’s Bubblebutt’s real name.
I’m so used to him making fun of me that my name sounds a little weird coming out of his mouth. I notice that he won’t look right at me, either.
Strange. All of a sudden, he seems shy. Almost semihuman.
Praise for Jacky Ha-Ha:A #1 New York Times Bestseller!
A Parents' Choice Award Winner!
A National Parenting Products Award Winner!
- "Engaging from start to finish. Patterson and Grabenstein's latest big-time series will fly off the shelves, and that's no joke." --- Booklist
- "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
- "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
- Jan 10, 2023
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- jimmy patterson