Creepy, voyeuristic and entertaining.
That's what you get with Teddy Wayne's "The Love Song of Jonny Valentine"—the somewhat sad, cynical tale of an 11-year-old bubblegum pop star with a meddling mother-manager and no dad anywhere to be found, except just maybe on Internet fan forum message boards.
Readers join our pipsqueak protagonist on tour for a couple of weeks, beginning in Las Vegas and ending in New York City. At the ripe old age of 11, Jonny's career is hovering just above the B-list and is in danger of teetering over the cliff into oblivion, going down as a one-hit wonder for "Guys Vs. Girls." Thank God he's got a mother like Jane (who, by the way, Jonny addresses as Jane, and not "Mom," so you know they've got a few issues) who does not ever, ever want to go back to clerking in a grocery store in St. Louis. She is ON IT. Sorry, Jonny. No extra carbs for you. And did you work out? Finished your homeowrk? Ready for sound check? Don't you dare drink any soda, mister! Is that chub on your stomach? Jane's giving Mommie Dearest a run for her money.
Jonny's song "Guys Vs. Girls" actually is well-suited as a metaphor when it comes to character relationships throughout the novel—Jonny vs. Jane, Jane vs. Rog (the voice coach), Jane vs. Walter (Jonny's awesome bodyguard), Jonny vs. Lisa Pinto (the female teen star and carefully scripted tabloid crush), Jonny vs. Nadine (his tutor) ...actually, it's pretty much Jane vs. Everybody. I'm surprised she doesn't try to fire the bus driver. Jane is a master manipulator, schemer and hard-partying manager with zero self-esteem. One of the saddest scenes in the book involves Jonny witnessing the depths of Jane's self-loathing when she brings a guy back to her hotel room. Which is also why I mention "creepy"—between that and the first time Walter brings Jonny a groupie backstage for post-concert entertainment, it makes me look at my own 11-year-old daughter and want to weep.
I thought I would tire of Jonny about halfway through the book, but I didn't—instead, I got wrapped up in the story and found myself feeling just so, so sorry for this kid, and hoping he'd get that reunion with his dad. It also made me wonder exactly what it's been like for the Beebs, as the similarities are more than just coincidental—discovered on YouTube, set up with teen actress to be pretend girlfriend, etc. But ... yeah, still think he is a no-talent hack. Sorry, Justin.
Great summer beach read—not too hard on the brain, but easily engaging and very entertaining. Don't miss it.
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