Book Review: Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen

The Title and cover of this book are perfection and I will not hear otherwise

The Title and cover of this book are perfection and I will not hear otherwise

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)
by L.C. Rosen
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: October 30th 2018
Rating: worth my preorder wait
Times read: 1
Recommended by: Kelly Jensen on the HeyYA podcast

Jack of Hearts and Other Hearts is a story about sixteen-year-old Jack who is very gay and very sexually active. His friend convinces him to start a sex-advise collum on her blog, picks up a secret admirer and that's when things start interesting.

Jack is quite warm and likable. This is actually a pretty remarkable feat of writing because he is also shallow (Does he have any interests outside of sex? The one class that Jack does seems to like, sculpting, he makes sexual), vain, and selfish. He is exceptionally extroverted which is always a hard sell. Pretty much everything that Jack does or wants to do in this book would be one of the lower circles of Hell for me. Even the way he relates to his mom and friends didn't feel familiar. Jack also doesn't have much character development. He starts and ends the book in almost the same place character wise. But while I didn't relate to Jack, I know that there are many out there who will. More importantly, Jack's motivations were understandable and consistent with who he is and it is was impossible not to be invested in his story.

This is definitely the most sexually explicit YA book that I have ever read. If you read the first few pages and can't deal with it, this is NOT the book for you. I can't think of another book that is this sex-positive/sex forward LGBTQIA or not. Be prepared for this book to be challenged and banned all over the place. Because something something teenagers reading about sex shock horror ect. Which is too bad because this book does it's best to normalize all kinds of sex and sexuality. There are more than a few teen readers who need to hear that message. The full columns of sex advice are in the book, and of course, Jack is writing to a reader which makes it feel as if Jack is writing to you. Or seventeen teen year old you. Which pulled me out of the story a bit. YMMV.

You can’t kill a reputation. All you can do is live your life.

This is a fast read. The writing is sharp and entertaining, and the mystery and danger of the plot propel the reader forward at a breakneck pace. I read Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) in two sittings, and it would have been one if I wasn't secretly 110 years old and go to sleep embarrassingly early.

There is also a really important theme about the fetishization of gay men by straight women and the damage that it does. Which is definitely a thing and you can see this even so far as to how much better m/m YA novels sell that f/f. I do kind of wish that Jack didn't say, "Straight people are awful." an explanation so often because it came off slightly meant spirited and he was never called out on it. But that is a minor quibble.

If you are looking for an exceptionally sex-positive LGBTQIA book to read or if you are just looking for a YA book that will push your boundaries Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) is worth checking out.

From Goodreads:

Meet Jack Rothman. He's seventeen and loves partying, makeup and boys - sometimes all at the same time. His sex life makes him the hot topic for the high school gossip machine. But who cares? Like Jack always says, 'it could be worse'.

He doesn't actually expect that to come true.

But after Jack starts writing an online sex advice column, the mysterious love letters he's been getting take a turn for the creepy. Jack's secret admirer knows everything: where he's hanging out, who he's sleeping with, who his mum is dating. They claim they love Jack, but not his unashamedly queer lifestyle. They need him to curb his sexuality, or they'll force him.

As the pressure mounts, Jack must unmask his stalker before their obsession becomes genuinely dangerous...

Book Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli 

Leah on the Offbeat
by Becky Albertalli 

Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: (Creekwood #2)
Published: April 24th 2018
Rating: Offbeat
Times read: 1
Recommended by: Myself and pretty much the whole of the book world

It is 2:11. I started this book at 8:34 and except for breaks to emotionally text a friend who is also reading it I read straight through. Which should give you a clue as to how into this book I was. Leah of the Offbeat is the second book in the Simonverse this time following Leah Burke, his best friend as she navigates her senior year and the rocky road to love and friendship. 

Returning to this universe I had I had predictions in the first 10% of the book. I actually wrote them down because I was that confident. NONE OF MY PREDICTIONS WAS CORRECT. I am shocked at that. I read a lot, and I am well versed in foreshadowing.  I am okay with this development.

Leah, as my friend put it, is all ball of angry. With resting bitch face. And I love that about her. So often female characters are soft and happy and cute. It was refreshing to see Leah just be her sharp and biting self without her anger becoming destructive or having to change her personality for her to find happiness. I was slightly irritated by the fact that she was so stunningly unaware of her own emotions. She was like, "OMG I feel a feeling. This is terrible, and I must pretend that it never happened. I had to be reminded that she is a teenager and that is kind of how they are. But I wanted to shake her, and comfort her and sit her down to help her learn to vocalize what she wants and how she feels.  I am not going to spoil love interest a secret. I didn't know so I had to figure it out at the same time as Leah.  I will say that this ship grew on me.

Here lies Leah Burke. Cause of death acute awkwardness.

Beckey Albertalli is a master of writing about the small painful and funny moments of growing up. There is a part where Leah is shopping for a dress and overhears some other girls just talking about their bodies and has a complete internal meltdown. I relate to that scene so hard. I have lived that scene. There are some great discussions in the book about gender, sexuality, body image, and race in this book. For a book that is so funny, there is a lot to chew on. Unfortunately, for me, the "issues" part of this book wasn't as seamless and naturalistic as I would have liked. It was very character heavy some of whom felt completely unnecessary. I also found that I was distracted by my love of Simon any time that he was on the page. "Ermehgerd, Simon! Wait, is something happening in this scene?" 

The Waffle House must be a southern thing. I grew up in New York, and I don't remember ever seeing them, and there definitely weren't any in the midwest when I lived there(Dairy Queen and A&W on the other hand...) I feel as if I am missing out and would like to petition for Waffle House to open an outlet in Beijing. Specifically near Dongjimen station.  Please and thank you.

This is a different book than Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Leah isn't as intrinsically cute and fluffy as Simon. She has a sharpness about her which I really appreciated but isn't as comfortable to read about.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA, LGBTQIA YA in general or Simon in particular. I had to stop reading in order to laugh out loud a couple of times (like, prolonged laughing, I was really glad I was alone) and I teared up and one point. 'Nuf said. 

From Goodreads:

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Book Review: Beast by Brie Spangler

beast cover

by Brie Spangler
GoodreadsAmazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: no
Release date: October 11th 2016
Rating: Different in a good way.
Times Read: 1
Recommended By: Goodreads

I guess that I should start with saying that I am a white, straight, cis woman and my review is going to come from that perspective.  I can’t speak for others.  I really enjoyed this book.  I found the writing engaging and the characterization was strong enough to make me tear up a couple of times.

I found Dylan to be a sympathetic yet flawed character.  I found him lovable and at the same time I wanted to scream at him because he kept making TERRIBLE choices.  He was pretty damn self-centered.  I liked that his character arch included figuring out how to communicate with the people in his life because holy crap was he bad at it.  He is incredible uncomfortable with the physical reality of his body which is something that I haven’t really seen explored in a male character before. He also falls into the trap of projecting his ideas of himself onto others. 

I felt like Jamie was her own person.  I read a couple of reviews that mentioned that she felt like a “magical manic pixie dream trans girl” but it didn’t read that way to me.  I felt as if she had a life outside of Dylan.  The book focuses on how she is affecting his life but to me that was just because this book was being told from Dylan’s perspective.  I like that she was a strong enough person to refuse to compromise or hide herself to fit herself into Dylan’s life and into his future plans.  

I wish that the secondary characters were better developed.  Dylan’s mom is great in the whole “I am going to help you and in the process steamroller over your life” kind of way.  I never really figured out JP.  I think that he was supposed to grow from more than a douche but I am not sure that he did.  I could have used more closure there.  I am struggling to think of any other characters.

There is a lot of hype around this being a trans book but I found it more trans adjacent.  It explores transphopia, the cruelty and fear that trans people face everyday, and the trans experience in itself.  It does it however though the lens of another character.  This book normalizes those who are transgender.  It makes them part of the larger community of YA that inhabits my brain.  This is all great.  For me as an outsider.  I am not sure that this book is mirror up to trans women in which they will see themselves fully reflected. This book is more like someone else looking in the mirror and you can see yourself behind them.  Which is okay.  I think we need books like this.  I am just waiting for that other book to be written (actually lots of them!  There is more than one story to be told!) because there still seems to be a need.

My feelings about Beast, whatever the flaws, are overwhelmingly positive.  The message seems to that while the world and love itself are not perfect there is still hope for us all. And who couldn’t do with hearing that?

From Goodreads:
Tall, meaty, muscle-bound, and hairier than most throw rugs, Dylan doesn’t look like your average fifteen-year-old, so, naturally, high school has not been kind to him. To make matters worse, on the day his school bans hats (his preferred camouflage), Dylan goes up on his roof only to fall and wake up in the hospital with a broken leg—and a mandate to attend group therapy for self-harmers.

Dylan vows to say nothing and zones out at therapy—until he meets Jamie. She’s funny, smart, and so stunning, even his womanizing best friend, JP, would be jealous. She’s also the first person to ever call Dylan out on his self-pitying and superficiality. As Jamie’s humanity and wisdom begin to rub off on Dylan, they become more than just friends. But there is something Dylan doesn’t know about Jamie, something she shared with the group the day he wasn’t listening. Something that shouldn’t change a thing. She is who she’s always been—an amazing photographer and devoted friend, who also happens to be transgender. But will Dylan see it that way?