Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review: JACKED UP by Erica Sage

Rating: 3/5 stars

I was a little nervous starting this book for two reasons: 1) my favorite teacher wrote it so I obviously wanted to love it, and 2) I was worried it was going to be rather sacrilegious, in which case I knew I wouldn’t love it.

Jacked Up is about fifteen-year-old Nick, who is having trouble coping with his sister’s suicide and who is haunted by the ghost of Jack Kerouac. His parents try to help him grieve by sending him to a Christian church camp for a week. There is a box at the camp where people put their confessions and their darkest secrets. Nick slips in a secret, one he didn’t even want to write down in the first place, and later that day the box gets stolen. Worried his confession will be revealed, Nick sets out to find who stole the box and retrieve his slip of paper.

The writing is great: funny and descriptive and interesting. And the plot of Nick grieving for his sister’s death and being sent to a religious summer camp (and the messages that us readers get from Nick’s experience) was enjoyable too. But I didn’t really care for the actual camp itself.

That is my only real criticism of the book—how the church camp was portrayed and what kinds of activities happened there. I think the point was that it be outrageously absurd, but I was still really bothered by it. I was very suspicious of that camp because it seemed pretty unrealistic to me: kids dressing up as prostitutes and lepers from the Bible, kids watching a Jesus character perform magic tricks (it is deeply disrespectful to dress up and pretend to perform miracles like Jesus, by the way, and I would be so offended if I saw this at camp), kids playing with Ouija boards, kids carrying literal crosses for their sins (!?), and kids shunning Nick for liking Harry Potter because it’s “satanic.” We’ve had Harry Potter-themed events at my (somewhat conservative) church camp before, so Nick being asked to use his Harry Potter towel “wrong side out” seems overly drastic to me. In fact, the six years I went to church camp were vastly different from Nick’s experience, and it was always a positive environment for me. I think a lot of what happened at Nick’s church camp is, frankly, wrong, but I have no idea if it is a realistic portrayal of some kind of church camp out there or if it has been exaggerated for the book; I can compare only my own experiences. Regardless, I enjoyed the whole camp experience better if I looked at it as a parody on modern devout Christians and how every Christian that comments on the hypocrisy in the church and then says “I’m not judging you” is, in fact, actually a hypocrite that’s secretly judging you.

Something I think a lot of people nowadays, especially Christians (and many of the characters in this book), don’t understand is that Christ loved everyone, and to be a true follower of Christ, we should also love everyone. Judging someone for this or that or deciding that someone is going to hell is wrong and that’s not our decision to make. Only God, who can see a person’s heart, mind, and desires, can truly make that judgment call.

I am glad that Nick sees all the irony and hypocrisy at the camp, and he outwardly notices it and questions it many times, which I greatly appreciated. Those kinds of problems should never go unquestioned.

I thought Nick was a great protagonist in this story. He has to make some hard decisions and we see how he changes because of his choices. And I love that he is obsessed with grammar. I want to see more characters like him in books because actually knowing how to properly use English is so underrated these days.

One of the funniest parts of Jacked Up is when the campers rewrote modern rap songs to be religious. I definitely liked “I like big Bibles and I cannot lie.” The other funniest part was that one scene with way too many donkey jokes that just kept coming. I was actually tearing up from laughter.

I liked the pages in every chapter that had the confessions on them because it gave us more perspective into each of the characters’ lives, and it helped me to sympathize with some of the more unlikeable characters. You can tell that Mrs. Sage has spent a lot of time around teens because the characters’ personalities felt authentic, and the jokes and comments they made were relevant.

I have not read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, but I’d be curious to see if there are any parallels between it and Jacked Up because both Jack and his book play huge rolls in this story.

Overall, Jacked Up is a funny book that delves into some deep topics and ultimately shares an important message about overcoming our battles and not letting the world define us. I think it would be an excellent book for the right audience. I, however, do not believe I was quite the right audience, but only because of my religious sensitivity. I still enjoyed the story though! Honestly, the longer I read the book the more I liked it. And I loved the ending. Nick overcomes issues that have been burdening him for a long time, and so do other campers, and it’s really nice to see the resolution.

“You know how they say eyes are the window to the soul and all that? For me, art is like the door out of my soul. It’s safe to come out that way.”

P.S.: Mrs. Sage, I love you, and you’ve always been my favorite and most influential teacher. I can’t wait to see what books you will write in the future. It is so awesome you were able to tell the story you wanted and get it published for all the world to read, and I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

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