By Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Kerascoet
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With her irresistible urge to tell a joke in every situation—even when she really, really shouldn't—twelve-year-old Jacky Ha-Ha loves to make people laugh. And cracking wise helps distract her from thinking about not-so-funny things in her life, like her mom serving in a dangerous, faraway war, and a dad who's hardly ever home.
But no matter how much fun Jacky has, she can't seem to escape her worries. So one starlit night, she makes a promise to keep her family together…even if she has to give up the one thing that makes her happy. But can she stop being Jacky Ha-Ha, if that's who she really is?
Bestselling author James Patterson captures the humor, and struggles, of standing out in all the wrongs ways in this tender, laugh-out-loud story introducing hilarious, #1 New York Times bestselling heroine Jacky Ha-Ha.
Don't miss Jacky Ha-Ha's other hilarious stories: Jacky Ha-Ha: My Life is a Joke and Jacky Ha-Ha Gets the Last Laugh!
Table of Contents
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Okay, let me set the scene.
It's the absolutely worst day of any year ever recorded since history has been recorded. That, of course, would be the last day of summer vacation. The day before school starts.
The year is 1990. President Bush (the first one, George H. W.) tells the world he doesn't like broccoli and hasn't liked it since he was a little kid, when his mother made him eat it. Donkey Kong is about as good as it gets in video games. And guys are wearing mullets. They're about as hideous as a hairstyle can be—short at the front and sides, long in the back. Kind of like a coonskin cap made out of hair.
I'm living with my six sisters (your aunts) in a tiny house near the beach in Seaside Heights. Think Little Women living on the Jersey Shore, but none of us have questionable names like Snooki or JWoww.
Our father is pretty strict. He makes sure we keep our little house spick-and-span and "shipshape," even though it's a bungalow, not a boat.
We have to do all of our chores before we can do anything remotely fun—even though it's the last day of summer.
"Put some elbow grease into it, girls!" That's Emma. She's only six, but she does an awesome Dad impression.
We all call Emma the Little Boss. She's incredibly stubborn, but fortunately for her, also incredibly cute.
The rest of us gab up a storm while we wash windows, beat rugs, clean up the kitchen, and scrub the toilets. Remember, this was before texting. In 1990, we actually talked to each other. Weird, right?
My oldest sister, Sydney, who was nineteen that year, isn't home right now because her summer ended early. She went off to college (Princeton), where she is a freshman. (Ever wonder why colleges don't have freshwomen? Are they all stale? That's the kind of goofy thing I think about sometimes.)
As you might imagine, Sydney is adored by the whole family, parents and grandparents included. She is practically perfect in every possible way.
That means she's the exact opposite of me.
Being born a girl in the middle of a pack of girls makes me about as special as a brown M&M. I'm fourth in line to the throne, which, in our house, would be the toilet I have to scrub with stinky blue chemicals before I can go outside and have some end-of-summer fun. And with seven people sharing our single bathroom, it's no quick thing to get it clean.
I guess you could say I'm something of a tomboy. While all the other girls on the Seaside Heights beach are wearing bright red Baywatch one-piece swimsuits or teeny-weeny bikinis, I prefer cut-off blue jeans and my baggiest New York Giants T-shirt. I also have a very funny sun hat. Okay, it's a sombrero.
The only sister younger than me (besides Emma, the Little Boss, of course) is Riley. She's eleven.
I feel sorry for Riley. She's in the very unfortunate position of having me as her big sister.
You see, the problem is, Riley looks up to me. She's my sidekick and partner in crime, not that we've ever done anything that's actually, you know, criminal. Okay, some of the pranks we pull are borderline illegal, but I think a halfway-decent lawyer could easily get us out of jail free (my favorite card in Monopoly). Riley is always skating on the edge of the abyss because that's where I like to hang out. In the danger zone.
My parents' other middle child is Hannah.
Hannah is fourteen and too nice for words. She's so sweet they won't let her into the candy stores on the boardwalk anymore because they're afraid of the competition. Also because she likes to help herself to samples of peanut butter fudge. Every day. For hours at a time.
Hannah has a huge crush on Mike Guadagno, a rich kid from Stonewall Prep. It's kind of sad and, also, kind of funny.
My sister Victoria (don't you dare call her Vickie) is fifteen going on fifty.
Victoria has advice about everything for everyone, and she loves to share it with you, any time of the day or night. She's a bookworm, a movie nut, and a library nerd. She also keeps a diary and likes to inform you when she intends to write about something you just did. Victoria never shuts up, not even in her sleep. One night, I'm sure I heard her giving advice to the monster in her nightmare on how to scare her better.
Finally, there's Sophia, the second oldest—or, as she likes to say, the oldest because Sydney is off at college.
Sophia is eighteen and in love (temporarily) with Mike Guadagno.
That's right. The same rich kid from Stonewall Prep that Hannah has a crush on, hence the sad-funny thing I was talking about earlier. Sophia doesn't know about Hannah's feelings for Mike. Mike doesn't, either. (Victoria does and has advised against them. Repeatedly.)
Mike Guadagno is a nice guy, actually. He's what Mom would call a keeper, which means, basically, he's a fish you wouldn't toss back into the ocean after you hauled it into your boat and ripped the hook out of its mouth. I sort of feel sorry for Mike. We all do. As soon as summer's over, we know Sophia is going to rip out her hook and break Mike's heart. It's her thing. She collects boys the way a botanist collects flowers or a bugologist collects beetles.
My new friend Meredith Crawford, who recently moved to Seaside Heights from Newark, tells me there's no such thing as a bugologist when I tell her about Sophia and how she plays "impossible to get."
"Scientists who study insects are called entomologists," she says.
Meredith is super-smart. I'm hoping she'll help me do my homework when school starts. She already pitches in with the chores around our house because she practically lives at our place and we need all the help we can get.
My mom (your grandmother) doesn't do much housekeeping. No cooking, no cleaning. Nothing.
She's in Saudi Arabia.
Another thing that happened in 1990?
A crazy dictator with a bushy mustache named Saddam Hussein (the crazy guy, not the bushy mustache) invaded Kuwait because he thought they were charging too much for gas.
Hey, I don't like the price the guy on the corner charges, but do you see me invading his gas station?
Anyway, after Saddam refused to remove his troops from Kuwait, President George H. W. Bush (the guy who hates broccoli) ordered the start of Operation Desert Shield.
Mom, who everybody calls Big Sydney—not because she's large or anything but because she came before Little Sydney, my oldest sister—is a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps. The second that President Bush declared Operation Desert Shield, Mom had to pack up her gear and ship out for Saudi Arabia, where America's troops were stationed, waiting for Saddam to do the right thing, which would be to leave Kuwait without breaking anything.
That's why we Hart girls are on double cleaning duty these days. We're in charge of everything in our small house, from basically raising Emma (and sometimes Riley) to checking in on Mom's mom (our grandmother Nonna) and walking Sandfleas. She's our dog.
I flush the toilet and watch the blue foamy water swirl away. My final chore is finished.
"Let's book!" I say to my friend Meredith. (Quick translation: "Let's book" in the 1990s means "Let's get outta here," not "Shall we read something by Dr. Seuss?")
"What do you want to do?" I ask, hoping she has an incredible idea that would be the perfect end to our summer vacation.
"I don't know. What do you want to do?"
I'm about to say "I don't know" when I have my best end-of-the-summer brainstorm ever.
"Let's hit the boardwalk and play a new game," I say to Meredith.
Riley asks if she can tag along.
"We might do something stupid," I warn her.
Riley shrugs. "Stupid is cool."
She'll regret that decision later, trust me.
We walk two blocks east to the boardwalk. The instant we're up the steps, the smell of sizzling Italian sausage sandwiches slathered with grilled onions and limp green peppers attacks my nostrils. I lay out the rules of my new game.
"We have to eat every single type of food there is on the boardwalk."
"Huh?" says Meredith.
"Curly fries, zeppoles, orange-and-white swirl cones, deep-fried Oreos, pizza, Philly cheesesteaks…"
"We'll get sick," says Riley.
"Maybe," I say. "But whoever eats the most is the winner!"
"What do they win?"
"An amazing prize," I tell Riley. "No chores. For the whole month of September! No dishes, no mopping, no toilet scrubbing."
"I'm in," says Meredith enthusiastically, which is a little silly because she doesn't have to do any chores in our house anyway.
"Me too," says Riley.
And so it begins. First stop—funnel cakes!
The three of us giggle as we gobble up paper plates full of squiggly fried dough dusted with powdered sugar.
Then we move down the boardwalk to devour hot dogs and pepperoni pizza slices and big, salty pretzels. We slosh down all of that bready gunk with Kohr's fresh fruit orangeade, which I don't think has any fruit at all in it, unless sugar counts.
Poor Riley drops out when we move on to Philly cheesesteaks—sandwiches dripping with some kind of white, cheeselike goo, onions, and gobs of fatty meat.
After Meredith and I munch our meat bombs, we move on to Dippin' Dots, which have been called the future of ice cream for like thirty years and, still, the only place I ever see the frozen pebbles is on the Jersey Shore boardwalk.
"Maybe astronauts will eat them when we colonize Mars," I say, which reminds Meredith that we haven't eaten a deep-fried candy bar yet, so we find a food stand that serves them.
In fact, we both wolf down three batter-dipped, deep-fried Baby Ruth bars. And some deep-fried Ring Dings. And some deeper-fried curly fries.
This is when our stunt gets truly awesome—we're starting to attract a crowd. A real, live audience!
I'm in heaven!
Yes, there's nothing better than a mob of perfect strangers paying attention to you, especially when you're a middle child who's semi-invisible at home.
Now that Mom's off with her marine unit in the Persian Gulf, I lost fifty percent of any parental attention I could get, which isn't much with six sisters. Dad has to work all day. He's tired when he gets home. He has bills to pay and a car to take care of and a gaggle of girls driving him goofy. We're lucky if he can remember all of our names. He doesn't have time to actually pay attention to us one-on-one.
A guy in our audience hands us a white bakery bag.
"Two elephant ears," he says. "One for each of youse."
Elephant ears are these gigantic, flaky cookies the size of, well, elephant ears.
I'm chomping away, nibbling my way around the circle (which, incidentally, is the only way you could eat something the size of a manhole cover), but I'm slowing down some. My stomach has ballooned out to the size of a beach ball. Meanwhile, our crowd has swollen to dozens of people, maybe as many as fifty! Our eat-a-thon is a huge hit and I'm feeling great.
Until I don't.
"You had any of these yet, girls?" A devil in a Hawaiian shirt offers us a platter of greasy, lumpy, cheesy chili nachos.
The nachos resemble a pile of steaming dog poop on a pile of tortilla chips, and just looking at it gets my gag reflex going. Meredith's, too.
"I think I might regurgitate," she mumbles.
(See, I told you she was smarter than me.)
All I come up with is "I'm going to blow chunks!"
And the two of us toss our cookies. And our pizza. And our deep-fried Baby Ruth bars. And everything else we ate in the last two hours. We're spewing brown chunky junk like a pair of berserk sewer pipes. I totally ruin my sombrero, which I'd thought would make a good vomit bucket.
Why do I do these things to myself? I wonder as I watch the food I ate make a repeat appearance. Why?
It's a question I ask a lot.
(Why do I let Jacky Hart do these things to me? is what Meredith asks herself.)
When we're finally done, I can't resist cracking a joke.
"Yum! More room for dessert. Fudge, anyone?"
At that, Meredith horfs up some more pavement pizza.
Then things get worse. Much worse.
First, our audience disappears. Fast. I don't think they enjoyed our big, boffo, barfy finish.
"Come back tomorrow, folks!" I say as they walk away. "We're here all week."
"No, we're not," says Meredith. "Tomorrow's school, remember?"
Yes, I do. But I'd been trying to forget.
"Uh-oh," says Riley.
She sees something flashing in the sun, maybe a hundred yards up the boardwalk. She points and I see it, too.
It's silver. It's bouncing up and down. And it's coming closer.
"It's his whistle," wheezes Riley. "It's Dad."
Our father, Mac Hart, wears a shiny silver whistle around his neck because he is the captain of the Seaside Heights Beach Patrol. That means he's the head lifeguard, which, of course, also means he's a total hunk.
There's a TV show in the '90s called Baywatch about a bunch of really good-looking lifeguards who love to run up and down the beach. But they only wish they could look as good as Captain Mac Hart. Even though he's not getting any younger, everyone says he's still the best-looking boy on the beach. Seriously. When they were dating, Mom had a special T-shirt made with BEST-LOOKING BOY ON THE BEACH printed across the chest in cartoony letters. Dad still wears it sometimes when he cleans out the gutters and stuff.
Once upon a time, Mac Hart left New Jersey and went to the University of South Carolina on a baseball scholarship.
He was even drafted by the New York Yankees. Okay, he played for the Oneonta Yankees in Oneonta, New York, but still, it was the Yankees and, technically, they were in New York State. Plus, lots of big baseball stars came out of the Oneonta minor-league team over the years: Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada. But not Mac Hart. Instead, he met Big Sydney, got married, put away his glove and cleats, had seven kids, and became a professional lifeguard down the shore in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
I wish I could've seen him play.
"What happened?" Dad asks when he looks down and sees my soggy beach hat filled to the brim with a pool of semidigested junk food.
"W-w-we ate too much?" I say.
"And whose idea was that?"
I raise my hand. "M-m-mine." I've always been a prankster, but never a liar.
Dad just shakes his head. I am a major-league disappointment.
"Come on, girls. I'm driving you home."
"That's okay," I say, stifling a burp because, believe it or not, my stomach is still sort of full. "I'd rather w-w-walk."
"Young lady," says my father, whipping off his very dark sunglasses so I can see that he is scowling at me. "You're in no condition to walk."
"I'm fine," I say.
"No, Jacqueline, you are not. You're coming with me."
Yes, all of a sudden, I have my father's undivided attention and I wish I didn't.
"See you at home!" I say as cheerily as I can while patting my tummy. "The w-w-walk will do me good."
I turn tail and take off running like a marathoner.
"Jacky!" Dad hollers. "Stop! Stop this instant!"
I don't stop. I keep running.
Dad starts blowing his whistle.
And I start blowing chunks. While I run.
Never a good idea, guys. You sort of run through your very own smelly Technicolor rainbow.
Which is why I never wore that New York Giants T-shirt again, either.
And that brings us to me climbing the Ferris wheel in Seaside Heights, because I don't think either of you wants to hear that I spent the rest of my last day of summer sitting in my room thinking about what I did, which is what my father told me to do.
Actually, the whole sitting-in-your-room thing isn't that bad if you have books, which I did. Especially funny, spoofy, snarky books like Mad About Town and Fighting Mad, written by the "usual gang of idiots" who also write Mad magazine.
Around midnight, when everybody else is asleep, I crawl out my bedroom window. Good thing it's on the first floor… it makes sneaking out much easier. I wind up with fewer broken bones.
By the way, what I'm doing is extremely dangerous. No one in their right mind would, should, or could really do this. But I promised you I'd tell you the truth, so here I go.
First, I have to weave my way through all the sketchy characters and rowdy college kids bumbling around in the shadows of Seaside Heights after midnight.
And then… I have to climb a Ferris wheel.
Don't try this at home, kids. Or at the county fair. Or Disney World. Or anywhere there might be a huge wheel made out of steel.
The Ferris wheel in Seaside Heights is on the Funtown Pier, which juts out over the Atlantic Ocean. I creep up on it from the beach, which means my sneakers will be full of sand when I start climbing. I probably should've worn socks.
In the daylight, you can tell the gondola cars are painted red, white, and blue. Very patriotic. At night, they just look like gray, kind of gray, and darker gray.
The first half of the climb is actually pretty easy. I ladder up the nicely spaced struts on the support beams that form a triangle to anchor the wheel's giant axle.
To get to the top, however, I have to hoist myself, monkey-bar style, up the slanted supports between crossbeams like I'm climbing a very slippery rope.
Once more, I'll remind you that I was crazy when I was twelve.
With one last "mmph," I swing around and sort of straddle the edge of the wheel and just sit there, staring out at the ocean and the twinkling sky.
It's beautiful. Almost worth the trip.
I look for signs of my future out on the horizon. It's kind of dark. Hopefully that's because it's one o'clock in the morning and not because my future is extremely grim.
I take in a deep breath, and with the stars and the ocean and God as my witness, I make a solemn vow.
"I am doing this insane thing tonight," I say to who- or whatever is listening, "because tomorrow, I'm going to start a sane year at school. My first noncrazy year ever. I'm going to fulfill my 'tremendous potential,' the one my teachers are always telling me I'm wasting. I'm going to stop being the class clown, smart aleck, and wisenheimer. I'm also going to write more letters to Mom over in Saudi Arabia, visit Nonna in her nursing home more often, and be nicer to Dad and my sisters, especially Riley.
"I also solemnly swear that, this year, I will do a lot of other things I can't think of right now because I'm perched precariously at the top of this Ferris wheel and the steel is pinching my thighs, which makes it incredibly difficult to think of stuff to solemnly swear about. But you'll see… I'm going to be a new me. No more Jacky Ha-Ha! This I do solemnly swear, amen."
To punctuate my promise, I raise my right hand and start howling at the moon.
I mean I'm really AH-WOOing like the Wolf Man.
Even though I just promised I would stop doing funny stuff, I figure the howling is my last big hurrah.
As for the name Jacky Ha-Ha? We'll get to that in a minute.
First, I have to climb down from the darn Ferris wheel.
Here's another confession: That particular nickname has been with me since pre-K.
I had a really bad stutter back then. In 1990, I'm more of a stammerer, except when I'm embarrassed or excited or p-p-panicked. Yes, this is why I've hated making speeches my whole life. And why I wasn't too crazy about chatting with my dad on the boardwalk after I'd eaten one of everything, especially with Meredith and Riley watching.
In pre-K, the other kids would ask me what my name was and I'd sputter out "Jacky Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Hart!" They'd laugh so hard, milk and Oreo pieces would come shooting out of their noses.
I didn't like that. And not just because they were squirting me with soggy cookie crumbs.
Nope, I didn't like it because those kids were laughing at me, not with me. I needed to turn that around.
So, when I was eight and working my way through elementary school, I took on the role of the class clown. I'd make funny faces, crack smart remarks, and repeat a lot of knock-knock jokes, which, with me, were always kn-kn-kn-knock, kn-kn-kn-knock jokes. The other kids loved them. Especially the way I could make the knock-knock bit last so long and sound so silly.
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 21, 2016
- Hachette Audio