Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
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?
For middle-grade readers who are a fan of funny books with heart, Jacky Ha-Ha is sure to be a hit. But it doesn’t have the depth and high-quality writing of the best of the genre.
One of my favorite things about Jacky Ha-Ha was that it took the conventions of MG-humor, but inserted a female main character and cast. Why James Patterson didn’t get a female author to co-write this with him I do not understand, but whatever. I also like that Jacky is NOT a girlie girl whose main problems are boys and drama, so she can appeal to characters of any gender. But nor is she a tomboy, which is so often the cliche MG writers fall into. She’s just a regular kid. It was really nice to see a young woman presented for this age group who is making mistakes, but is well-intentioned and funny.
Boy, is Jacky funny. There were several times that I was laughing out loud during this book! Jacky and her teacher have great banter, something I think is under-appreciated in MG books. The situations she gets herself in are also completely over the top.
But despite the comedic nature of this book, it tackles some serious subjects as well. Jacky’s mom is overseas in the Persian Gulf War, and the authors tackle head-on her fear for her mom’s life combined with her refusal to let anyone know how scared she is. Jacky has a stutter and as a result deals with some pretty cruel bullies. (Though my main critique of the book is that the “solution” to her stutter is WAY over-simplified.) Jacky’s grandmother is sick and eventually dies. Because of Jacky’s manner of laughing at everything, none of these serious issues allow the tone of the book to get heavy. It’s light all the way through, but the heart is there.
I also enjoyed (and this is a personal thing) seeing kids involved in extra-curricular activities. It was especially exciting to see theater. Too many YA and MG books ignore extra curriculars that aren’t sports.
The illustrations were WONDERFUL. Unlike so many diary-style books flooding the YA market, the illustrations were not an essential part of the story. You could listen to this book and not miss anything. But the illustrations (which were on most pages) added to the sense of fun. They were more realistic, obviously drawn by the adult narrator, not a ten-year-old. I loved the style, and I loved the humor Kerascoët infused into every picture.
So yeah, I really enjoyed this book, and I think that kids who love Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants will too. However, I think it over-relied on the humor. This is a weak four-stars for me. It doesn’t have universal appeal, but the kids who like it are going to REALLY like it.