Jacked Up – Erica Sage – Sky Pony Press – Published 3 April 2018
It’s bad enough that Nick’s sister is dead and, in some bizarre attempt to force him to confront his grief, his parents are shipping him off to Jesus Camp. But he’s also being haunted by the ghost of Jack Kerouac—who’s surprisingly annoying, for a genius.
And if arguing with a dead beat poet weren’t enough to qualify Nick for antipsychotics, he’s pretty sure Eden Springs Church Camp is going to drive him insane. The campers ride donkeys into the desert campsite; a retired magician dressed as Jesus seems obsessed with converting him; and Nick’s practically shunned for uttering the words “Harry Potter.”
Worst of all is the PC Box, into which every camper is required to place a nightly prayer or confession. In hopes of getting Jack to stop nagging him about it, Nick scribbles down his darkest secret—a secret about his sister’s death—and drops it in the box.
But then the box is stolen, with Nick’s secret inside of it. When campers’ confessions start appearing around the camp, Nick is desperate to get the box back—before the world learns the truth about what he did. The truth he can’t even face, himself.
What a crazy book! Jacked Up is a uncontrollable snort laugher inducing, hypocrisy identifying, gut punching, grammar fixing, donkey jokes kind of crazy book. With all the finesse and humour of its authentic male narrator, Jacked Up is an upfront and honest novel that delves into the aftermath of suicide, grief, and guilt, in a way that is easy to read and lots of fun.
In the wake of his sister’s suicide, Nick’s parents are sending him to Bible Camp. Sure it is the last place on Earth that could help him, especially considering the soul-eating secrets he is hiding, Nick is reluctant at first. Arriving at the camp only increases his doubts – are these people serious with their Bible character dress-up selfie moments, donkey lotteries, and box of prayers and confessions? But when the PC box goes missing, containing Nick’s biggest secret, he will do anything to get it back.
I jumped into Jacked Up with little prior knowledge of its aspirations as a novel. And it totally surprised me. There were so many fun moments. Nick is an awesome narrator and totally realistic of a teenage boy. And the book doesn’t shy away from anything – coarse language, sexual references, innuendo, jokes of every description. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a teen boy (or maybe girl) alive who wouldn’t love to read this book. Unless you consider those who might be offended by it…. And let’s face it, there are many people who might be offended by the revealing of this teenage boy’s mind.
Set almost entirely at Bible Camp, Nick doesn’t waste a moment pointing out the hypocrisy he spots and things with which he disagrees. And in doing so, Jacked Up raises a very valid point about judgment and the use of various value codes and rules in that judgment. One of my favourite quotes is “Nick, don’t let man’s rules and religion get in the way of the divine mysteries of the universe.” And for all Nick’s ridicule of the believers attending the camp, Jacked Up actually does a good job of separating the flaws of man from the beliefs they hold. Another particularly strong message in the book was in regards to the treatment of one of the female characters. Nick notes the judgment others pile upon her, notes his own culpability as both a witness and as someone who doesn’t speak up against it. Hopefully the message of the horrid unfairness and hypocrisy of this judgement shines clearly from the story. The sporadic inclusion of the confessions of the other characters also helps the reader step outside of Nick’s viewpoint, allowing the reader to examine the other characters in fresh ways.
But layered under all the other themes that Jacked Up touches upon, the aftermath and resulting grief and guilt of suicide is the most poignant topic that Jacked Up raises. Again, nothing is held back, and as the reader slowly pieces together Nick’s story, as the final secret is laid bare, and as Nick gains some release and power from the simple act of sharing his story, the powerful message of removing stigma and judgment around suicide is revealed.
At once both hilariously funny and totally heartbreaking, Jacked Up is an easy-to-read and approachable novel. Though some may find it wildly offensive, its honesty and humour make it a book I can happily recommend.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Grief, honour, bible camp, camp, sisters, suicide, Jack Kerouac, romance, literature, secrets, beliefs.
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Strong, frequent sexual references, innuendo, references to genitalia. Mature themes, suicide. Drug and alcohol use and references to addiction. Strong, frequent coarse language, f*** (8), sh** (30), sl** (4), as***** (32), bit** (5), pi** (11), who** (3), ti** (2), di** (2).
Published: 3 April 2018 by Sky Pony Press..
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 272 pages.