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Jack of Hearts (and other parts)
By L. C. Rosen
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Riverdale meets Love, Simon in this modern, fresh, YA debut about an unapologetically queer teen working to uncover a blackmailer threatening him back into the closet.
Jack has a lot of sex–and he’s not ashamed of it. While he’s sometimes ostracized, and gossip constantly rages about his sex life, Jack always believes that “it could be worse.”
But then, the worse unexpectedly strikes: When Jack starts writing a teen sex advice column for an online site, he begins to receive creepy and threatening love letters that attempt to force Jack to curb his sexuality and personality. Now it’s up to Jack and his best friends to uncover the stalker–before their love becomes dangerous.
Ground-breaking and page-turning, Jack of Hearts (and other parts) celebrates the freedom to be oneself, especially in the face of adversity.
“ALL FOUR OF THEM WERE JUST GOING AT IT.”
“I thought there were three.”
“No, four. That’s what Tori said. All hard, and I think the guy from St. Jude’s was going down on the other one, what’s his name, Zack, from Riverton Prep.”
“I thought Jessica Lauter was there with Zack.”
“No she wasn’t.”
“I don’t know, but if she was, she probably didn’t leave with him, after that.”
“Who was the other one?”
“I don’t know. But Jack was, like, orchestrating the whole thing. He totally seduced them all in there and started the fourgy.”
“What did Tori do?”
“When she walked in on them?”
“Oh. I don’t know. I guess she just closed the door.”
“I would have watched.”
“No you wouldn’t have. Ava?”
“I wonder how he does it.”
“Jack. How he gets all that D. A fourgy in Hannah Ling’s hot tub? It’s like his life is a porno. Is it like that for all gay guys?”
“Like when he got fucked by the coach from Highbrook in the locker room during the homecoming game.”
“Home wasn’t the only thing that was coming!”
“He’s just got a gift.”
“It’s ’cause he’s so cute.”
“Did Tori see his…”
“You can say ‘cock,’ Emily.”
“Yeah. Well, did she?”
“She said it was huge. Like this big. I bet he was bottoming because the other boys were afraid of it.”
“Well, and he’s so queeny.”
“Ava, you can’t say that.”
“Why not? Isn’t he? I mean, he wears tank tops cut so low you can see his nipples. And makeup.”
“But you don’t say it.”
“Fine… he’s just totally a bottom. You can tell.”
“Oh man, I wish I was a gay boy. I could fuck that ass of his, and we could go have orgies all the time.”
“Kaitlyn! That’s so pervy.”
“No it isn’t. He does it.”
“Yeah, but he is a gay boy.”
MY REPUTATION FOR SLUTTINESS IS ONLY PARTIALLY deserved. Yeah, I was kissing that guy from St. Jude’s, sure, and then I kissed that guy Zack, who maybe was a friend of Jessica Lauter’s, but mentioned being president of his GSA, so I don’t think he was there with her. Although, maybe, I guess? I didn’t ask. He should have said something. There wasn’t a fourth guy. There was a big mirror in the bathroom, maybe that’s what Tori saw. But yeah, that’s me. Jack. I don’t love being called queeny, but I do have some fantastic tank tops and a love of eyeliner and black nail polish. I also have some great button-downs with mesh insets and tight jeans with tears so high up you have to go commando in them. I talk with my hands a lot, too. So, sure, call me “queeny” if you’re feeling nasty. I won’t hold it against you, as long as it’s said with love.
I don’t know if Kaitlyn, Ava, and Emily know that the vent in the girls’ bathroom means I can hear everything they’re saying from the boys’ bathroom. But on Mondays, I like to come in here for my second-period break, smoke a cigarette (the only time I do, mostly), and hear about what I did over the weekend. It’s scandalous.
So, true story: Yes, we were in the downstairs bathroom at Hannah Ling’s party, and yes, I maybe kissed both of them, one after the other. Yeah, with tongue. And it was pretty hot. They were going to kiss each other next. But we all had our clothes on, and we weren’t going to strip down and have a threesome right there. I mean, we would have gone back to my place, or someone’s place or something.
But then Tori walked in and gasped, really dramatically, and the guy from St. Jude’s blushed and took off and Zack started laughing. We made out a little more after that, but then he had to go home and study or something. I think he wasn’t so into me as he was into the idea of the threesome, which is fine, because the feeling was mutual.
So I didn’t even get laid, much less have my first three- or foursome, but somehow, it seems I had a hot-tub orgy. My rumored life is so much more fun than my real one. I bet rumor-me doesn’t have a history quiz next period. Or if he does, he already has an A on it for giving Mr. Davidson a blowjob.
I toss the cigarette out the window and hop down from the counter where you can hear the best, check my hair and makeup in the mirror, then leave. I leave before they do, because I think if they came out of the bathroom the same time as me, they’d just explode with giggles or embarrassment or… something. Better to just let them have their fun.
I’m not big on confrontation. I walk by the guys who mutter “fag” under their breath. I know, it seems like I should be that guy who screams at them, calls them homophobes. But why start something? Just… try to be likeable. That’s my motto. Not, like, pretend to be someone you’re not, obviously. Just be likeable. Don’t cause drama just because people who won’t talk to you in class talk about you naked when they think you can’t hear.
What is there to get mad about, really? They think I’m hot and want to lady-jack-off to the idea of me getting pounded by three guys. It could be worse, so I tell myself not to think about it. Private school in New York City is liberal and cool, generally. It’s not like I’m in Arkansas, forced into the closet and getting beaten up every day for just saying the wrong thing, my wrist being too limp. I’ve seen the “It Gets Better” videos. I know what it can be.
I mean, I do wonder what it is about my sex life, even active as it is, that attracts their attention. Other people have sex without becoming the stuff of legend and gossip. I guess I’m just special. Lucky me.
At my locker, I take out my history book to cram, but a note falls out when I open the door. A pink piece of paper, folded origami style into a triangle. It lands on the floor louder than I think paper should land. I pick it up and unfold it.
I smile. A secret admirer? That’s sweet. Or creepy, maybe? I look up and down the hall, but no one is looking at me, waiting to see my reaction. I look back down at the paper. Black marker. Bad handwriting. I doubt it’s any of the other out boys in school. Ben is one of my closest friends and I am not his type. He likes bears—big hairy guys—usually older. I’m definitely not in that particular gay subset of wildlife (on Grindr, I unhappily checked the twink box, because I’m seventeen and hairless and slim—but muscled, from running track—why isn’t that a box?). And Jeremy Diaz thinks I’m a whore who gives queers a bad name, and Don Caul is way too focused on getting into Yale to take the time to write a love note. Maybe some new freshman? Or maybe someone still in the closet? Is this Ricky Gavallino’s way of finally trying to inch his way out? Oh god—what if it’s a girl?
“Hey,” Jenna Rodriguez says from behind me. I stuff the piece of paper in my pocket and turn around.
“Hey,” I say. She raises an eyebrow at me, barely visible under the tangle of long half-bleached hair.
“What was that?”
She purses her tea-painted lips like she doesn’t believe me, but then shrugs, deciding she also doesn’t care. That’s why I love Jenna. If I want to keep something private, she doesn’t pry.
“So, I had this idea,” she says, sitting down. I sit down next to her, our backs against the lockers, her dark skirt pooling on the floor. “For the blog.”
Jenna was kicked off the school paper for, in the words of Principal Pattyn, “pursuing an agenda of aggressive anti–Parkhurst School spirit.” That was after she reported that Mr. Botts had crashed his car driving drunk one weekend. So she started her own blog—website, I guess—called The Private Line, writing about the stuff the school doesn’t want us to know. All the schools, really—the private schools. It’s not a gossip blog, like Famke Stein runs, with all the hookups and breakups and rumors. (I don’t feature on it as much as you might think—Famke is way more interested in the more popular boys and girls. But I do have my own tag.) The Private Line is actual, newsworthy sort of stuff. Local news. Teachers getting fired for whatever, department budget crises. Her mom is a reporter—the kind that travels the world and visits war zones and interviews dictators, so Jenna holds herself to a high standard of reporting. But lately she’s been trying to branch out. And for some reason, she wants me involved.
“Okay,” I say, opening my history textbook to the chapter I didn’t read last night.
“I want you to do a column.”
“I’m not a reporter.”
“I know,” she says. “An advice column. Sex advice.”
“Oh god,” I say, bringing the textbook up to cover my face. “Why? What did you hear?”
“Well, I did hear you found a guy on Grindr who looks like Tom Blackwell’s dad and you invited him to the tennis match last week and made out with him in the stands opposite Tom so he’d play a lousy game.”
“I don’t know Tom,” I say, dropping the book. “I wasn’t even at the tennis game.” I know it’s not the end of the world, but I wish I could fuck around without any commentary in the girls’ bathroom. I guess I could stop listening… but that’s not going to happen.
Jenna shrugs. “Just own it. Use it. For this column.”
“Please?” she says in a slightly begging voice. “You can use it on your college applications.”
“How is that going to look? ‘Told people how to suck dick.’ That’s some serious Harvard material.”
“Okay, so not a sex column. Like, a relationship advice column. We can call it Jack of Hearts.” She makes a headline in the air with her hands.
“Right. And other parts.”
“I like that,” she says, hitting me on the shoulder. “We can call it that.”
“I haven’t had a boyfriend who lasted more than three weeks.”
“So what? You know what makes people tick. You’d be good at it.”
“I’d be a disaster.” I turn the page in my history book without having read it.
“Do it once.” Jenna clasps my arm with both her hands, her tawny fingers warm but her pewter-painted nails digging in sharply. “Please? I need a little spice. People aren’t as interested in the backroom politics of the teachers’ union as they once were. Famke’s kicking my ass with that story about the Miller twins at Edgemont dating the same guy without him knowing.”
I sigh. We both know I’m going to give in. “I just have to answer questions?”
“Yeah. I’ll give you a stack, and you pick one out and you answer it. Easy.”
“I’ll do one,” I promise. “But only because you’re my friend. Not because I want to.”
“You never know,” she says, reaching into my bag and taking out my phone. She knows the password and has it open in two seconds. “You might like it.” She hands my phone back to me—there’s a new mail app on it. I tap it open to see I have a full mailbox waiting.
“You already have the questions?” I swipe through the emails. There’s a little over fifty of them, but at least a dozen are just calling me a fag.
“I may have used the rumor mill to spread the idea that you were going to be doing this last week.… That way I’d know if there was interest before asking you to do it. And I set up a special server that anonymizes the senders’ information. People feel more secure asking questions that way.”
“Thinking ahead,” I say, deleting the fag emails.
“A reporter’s job. Anyway, I didn’t filter them. So a lot are just like ‘How do you know you’re gay?’ and ‘Doesn’t anal hurt?’ stuff, but there are some good ones in there. But if you want to talk about anal, that’s okay, too.”
“Good to know what people think of when they hear my name,” I say flatly.
“Live it up,” Jenna says. “Better than not being known at all, right?”
“Sure,” I say, though anonymity sounds delightful. I know lots of kids want to be famous, and yeah, I like attention, but I’d much prefer it for things I do—like dress amazing and say witty things—than who I do.
“It’s like a public service,” she says in the voice she used when she ran for class president freshman year. “They don’t teach gay stuff in sex ed.”
“I can take a few days with these, right?” I ask, shaking the phone.
“Take until Thursday. Email me your question and response. I want to post your first column a week from today—Monday. And then the second one the Thursday after that. Then we’ll decide on weekly or twice weekly, depending on how people react.”
“I’m just doing one,” I say as firmly as I can.
She leans her head on my shoulder and rubs my knee. “No,” she says. “You’re not.”
“Not what?” Ben asks, coming down the hall. He plops down on my other side and takes out his history textbook, looks at what page I’m open to, and opens his to match. “Oh, I read all this already,” he says, flipping ahead. “You’re in trouble, girl.”
“Jack is going to write a column for my blog,” Jenna says. “Relationship stuff.”
“Oh, I bet that’ll be popular,” Ben says, without a trace of sarcasm. Ben doesn’t do sarcasm. Ben Parrish is like a beach ball—short, bouncy, round, and somehow always radiating happiness. The shaved head and round red glasses add to the effect. He also wears yellow a lot. His skin is really dark, so he pulls it off well.
“Right?” Jenna says, pushing me slightly in a “told ya” way.
“Is it going to be erotic?” Ben asks.
“No,” I say. “It’s advice. How is advice erotic?”
“Like, ‘How to spice things up in the bedroom!’ or ‘Ten great kissing tips!’”
“No.” I shake my head and turn to Jenna. “Right?”
She shrugs. “It’s whatever you want it to be. Erotic is fine.” She smiles, like she thinks that’s what it’s going to be anyway.
“Come on,” I say, standing up, “let’s go fail a quiz.”
“Later, fellas,” Jenna says, taking out her phone.
“I’m not going to fail,” Ben says, walking next to me. “I studied.”
“I studied… some,” I say. I look sideways at him. “Hey, you didn’t slip a note in my locker, did you?”
“A note?” Ben sounds confused. “What, are we in one of those old John Hughes movies we watched in our film history class?” He pauses. “Because I would love that.”
“There were no gay people in John Hughes movies,” I say. “Or black people.”
“I could break ground! Or it could be a modern reboot. I look extra pretty in pink.”
I snort as we get to Mr. Davidson’s classroom. It’s empty and the lights are out—class isn’t for another ten minutes. I don’t turn them on, just plop down in my seat next to the window and open my textbook again.
“Wait,” Ben says, apparently oblivious to my attempts to cram that last chapter in before class. “Did someone slip a note in your locker?”
“Never mind, I need to study.”
“Let me see!”
“I threw it out already.” I don’t know why I don’t want to show him, but there was something so weird and intimate about it.
“Was it a love note? Like, a secret admirer?”
“Can I study?”
“Why would you think I would write you a love note?”
“It wasn’t a love note. It was… nothing.” I point at the textbook. “I don’t want to fail.”
“Mmmhm.” Ben crosses his arms and juts his chin out at me. “Fine, keep your secret admirer secret. But if you figure out who it is, you better tell me.”
“I don’t think I want to know,” I say, before focusing on the history book again. The start of World War I. I know the whole wrong-turn-led-to-an-assassination story—that’s fun. But the actual reasons for the assassination are a little fuzzier than they should be. Luckily, Ben lets me go over them for the next few minutes as the other students trickle in. Then Mr. Davidson comes in, makes us put our books away, and hands out the quiz. Quizzes aren’t so bad. They’re quiet, which I like. And I can focus on the questions I know the answers to—which is about the first half.
But then there’s a question I don’t know, and suddenly that pink note is burning a hole in my pocket. Who writes notes anymore? Is it sweet or creepy? Or both? I guess it depends on who sent it. I mean, if it were like, Dylan Vandergraff, then it’s sweet, because I fantasize about him pretty regularly. He’s got blond hair but darker stubble, and he’s on the swim team, with thighs that could crack walnuts. I would love to be between those thighs. So if he wrote the note, then that’s delicious, and he can call me cute all he wants, and we’re going to live happily ever after.
But if it’s someone else—and let’s be honest, it probably is—then maybe it’s less cute.
“Ten minutes,” Mr. Davidson says. I turn back to the test and fill it out best I can. The perfectly folded triangle of the note presses into my leg like a branding iron.
Dear Jack of Hearts,
My boyfriend really wants to do anal. We’ve been together for a few months, and I totally love him, and it’s not like we’re virgins. But I’m nervous about the buttsex. Does it hurt? Is it even fun for girls? Should I do it just to make him happy?
—His Anaconda Want
I flip through the emails at lunch, snickering at a lot of them.
“What?” Ben asks every time I giggle, and then I show him the emails. He doesn’t laugh as hard. Ben isn’t a big slut like me. For one, there aren’t many large hairy men willing to have sex with a teenage high schooler, and though I can pass for barely legal, Ben’s round baby face makes him look like serious jailbait. But also, he’s shy with boys. I respect that. Just ’cause I like sex and have a decent amount of it doesn’t mean everyone else should. Everyone gets to use their naughty parts however and as often as they’d like. And Ben is saving his for his dream daddy. Except for those blowjobs he traded with that guy from The Mount Oaken School. But he regrets that, I think. Wanted it to be special. I’m not sure what constitutes a “special blowjob.” Violins, maybe?
“Did you pick one yet?” Jenna asks. She pokes at her yogurt half-heartedly. She’s wearing giant sunglasses. She always wears sunglasses in the cafeteria, which I don’t blame her for. They put those LED overheads in two years ago, and the lights make the cafeteria glow radioactively, showing how filthy it is. White floors, white tables, silver counters, all just the wrong shade of dirty.
“I can do this one,” I say, showing her the email from His Anaconda Want. “Tell her how to prep, clean up beforehand, use lots of lube, make sure he uses a condom, that kind of thing.”
Jenna frowns slightly.
“What? I thought you wanted me to talk about anal.”
“I just…” She tilts her head. “I think it would be stronger if it were more narrative. The safer sex stuff is great—it’s important, and I think it should be in there. But can it be more personal? This isn’t Dr. Jack’s What They Don’t Teach You in Sex Ed.”
“Beyond Condoms on Bananas,” I say, making a headline in the air like Jenna does. Ben laughs at that, though Jenna doesn’t.
“I mean, maybe if you wanted to do a whole article on that—but if you’re going to answer the letter, maybe try to make it more personal. Tell her about your first time.”
“My first time?”
“With anal, yeah.” Jenna takes a spoonful of yogurt. “Is that okay? I mean, everyone knows all about your various exploits, right? You’re not telling them anything they don’t know.”
I nod and bite my lower lip. I look down at my own lunch of carrot sticks and hummus. “I just… I don’t think anyone knows about that particular first of mine.”
“So tell them,” Jenna says. “Or make it up.”
“Make it up?” Ben asks, shocked. “I thought you wanted honest journalism.”
“I want a good story. Jack has good stories. But if he doesn’t want to tell one, I get that. So he can make one up. Retell his own history. Control some of the gossip around him, for once.”
“By lying?” I ask.
“You said yourself half the rumors about you are lies. Why not make them lies you want?”
“I don’t know what lies I could tell,” I say, thinking of the hot-tub fourgy. “They’re already so crazy.”
“So tell the truth,” Ben says. “Then people will stop spreading those rumors. Which, for the record, I never believe.”
“You should believe some of them,” Jenna says. I laugh, while Ben blushes.
“I’ll think about it,” I say.
“You got all week, babe,” Jenna says. “Do what feels right.”
I turn back to my lunch and eat another carrot.
“Did he tell you about his love note?” Ben asks Jenna suddenly.
“No,” Jenna says carefully, turning to me. I can feel her curious look through her sunglasses.
“It’s not a love note,” I say. They both stare at me in silence, and I sigh and take it out of my pocket. Maybe they can convince me to stop obsessing over it.
“You thought I wrote that?” Ben asks. He shoves my arm. “Girl, you wish.”
“I just didn’t know who it could be. Not that many out guys.”
“The pink paper is from the attic art room,” Jenna says, twirling the note in her hand. “So it has to be someone taking one of the advanced art classes—a junior or senior.”
“Or someone who bought pink paper outside of school,” I point out. I snatch the note back and put it in my pocket again. “It’s cute, right?” I ask. “Or is it creepy?”
“Depends if you like who it’s from,” Jenna says, grinning.
“It’s totally cute,” Ben says. “Even if you don’t like them, they like you so much they wrote you a note about it.”
I can feel Jenna rolling her eyes behind her sunglasses. “For now,” she says. “But you have to wonder about someone so… intimidated by you that they can’t just ask you out. That’s weird. There’s cute-shy, and then there’s, like, passive-aggressive romantic. That’s not cute.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Why be so negative?” Ben asks. “Maybe he’s, like, the man of your dreams and you don’t know it. He’s just waiting for you to show him a sign. You could fall in love!”
Jenna laughs a not particularly nice laugh.
“Ignore her,” Ben says, waving his hand at Jenna. “She’s just jealous ’cause no man is writing her love notes.”
“Thank god,” Jenna says.
“Oh, please. You’re not thirsty?”
“I got laid last weekend at a college party,” Jenna says, putting her yogurt down. “Smoke break?”
“Wait, what?” Ben asks. “Who?”
“Some college guy.” Jenna stands up. I stand, too, and Ben follows us as we throw our trash away and head outside. It’s a nice big campus with a quad in the middle, and technically we’re not supposed to go off campus… but no one notices. There are two guards for the whole school, and they’re never outside—they mostly hang out in their office, watching cameras. So we, and plenty of our classmates, stroll out through one of the big stone archways and then turn left and walk down the street a block to a small park. Behind us are skyscrapers, but in front of us there’s a straight street, leading to the river, and you can see the water. We sit on the bench there and Jenna takes out her e-cig, which looks like an old-fashioned cigarette holder, and starts vaping her rose-scented stuff. I think about taking out my cigarettes and lighting one, but I resist. I already had my one for the week.
“Does the college guy have a name?” Ben asks.
“I think it was Will?” Jenna says. “Bill? Miller. It was Miller.” She takes a drag, pauses. “That could have been his last name.”
“You two are such whores,” Ben says, laughing, then shaking his head in mock-disappointment in us. “Was he cute at least?”
“Oh yeah,” Jenna says, taking out her phone. She opens a blurry photo of a guy pulling up his shirt to show off his abs. They’re nice abs. Lickable.
“That’s it?” Ben asks. “No face?”
Jenna shrugs. “I wasn’t there to take yearbook photos.”
Ben smirks, leaning back on the bench on the other side of Jenna. I cross my legs and look back at the school—it’s built like a castle, on the far west side of the city. Past it is the Hudson River—it used to be a fort, I think, for ships. There’s an old cannon on the roof that I supposedly got fucked on once.
“You guys are too jaded,” Ben says. “No romance.”
“Bitch, look at my wardrobe,” Jenna says, waving a loose black sleeve. “I’m plenty romantic.”
Ben laughs. “You know what I mean. Don’t you guys want to find some guy to settle down with? Hold hands with? Go to prom with?”
Praise for Jack of Hearts (and other parts):A 2019 ALA Rainbow List Top Ten Title
"Jack of Hearts (and other parts) is the sex-ed class you didn't get in high school--positive, frank and inclusive, but also hilarious, heartfelt, and impossibly fun. This book is like a hug that also slaps you on the ass (in the consensual flirtatious sexy way)."—Mackenzi Lee, the New York Times bestselling author of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
"Told in a ferociously original voice, this subversive and defiantly queer ode to living your truth as an act of resistance arrives right on time."—Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit
"Unapologetically honest, refreshingly bold, and gloriously celebratory, being proud of who you are never felt so good. I loved this book."—Simon James Green, author of Noah Can't Even and Noah Could Never
"This is the sex-positive gay YA novel of your dreams, starring one of the most authentic and lovable YA characters ever. Warm, funny, and incredibly sexy, Jack of Hearts totally has my heart."—Cale Dietrich, author of The Love Interest
"Bold. Unfiltered. Supportive. Funny. Boundary-shattering. There aren't enough words for how much I loved Jack of Hearts, but if I could sum it up in one, it would be: necessary. Put this book in the hands of every teen who needs the courage to find comfort in their skin and desires (or lack thereof)."—Dahlia Adler, author of Under the Lights
* "The dearth of sex-positive YA literature-particularly sex-positive queer literature-makes this book an essential addition to library collections that serve teens."—School Library Journal, starred review
* "This is a bold, inclusive exploration of teen sexuality that, propelled by Jack's brazen voice, never feels preachy....The mystery adds truly compelling drama....Fresh, sex-positive, and unabashedly entertaining."—Booklist, starred review
"A sex-positive and thoughtful romp with humor and heart."—Kirkus Reviews
"Rosen (The Memory Wall) creates memorable protagonists and brings a fresh, frank voice to his YA debut."—Publishers Weekly
"Jack of Hearts might be the most important queer novel of the decade."—Gay Times
- On Sale
- Oct 30, 2018
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers