The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
by Teddy Wayne Published by Simon and Schuster
on February 4th 2014 Source: Publisher Pages:
320 Buy from IndieBound
In my scramble to catch up on everyone’s best of 2012 releases, I somehow managed to miss The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, even though it was one of the first books I planned to read this year. While it was a few months late, I’m so glad I set aside a few days to spend with Jonny.
Instead of playing baseball and crushing on girls in his class, eleven year-old Jonny Valentine is in the middle of a cross country tour, promoting his new album. Jonny made a name for himself through YouTube and his career skyrocketed with help from pre-packaging by his record label and the constant supervision of his mother and manager, Jane. As his tour progresses, Jonny begins to search for answers to questions about his childhood, father, emerging sexuality and, eventually, his future.
Teddy Wayne deserves a ton of praise for daring to walk the tightrope that the themes of this novel placed him on. Writing a story from the perspective of an eleven year old pop star could instantly lean YA, but Wayne finds near-perfect balance in Jonny’s voice. While his industry-speak is shockingly adult, as he’s spent so much time being scripted, we are frequently reminded that Jonny’s general vocabulary is nowhere near Dawson’s Creek.
“Walter fist-bumped me and said, ‘Ready to kick some tail and take names tonight, brother?’ and I never really know if he wants me to answer or if the question is what Nadine calls rhetorical and also what taking names actually means, like if you’d kick someone’s tail and ask them their name after to put on a list to help you remember whose tail you don’t have to kick anymore, plus I don’t think kicking tail and taking names includes getting a ride from your mother over to a gay guy’s hair salon on Beverly Drive to have your hair dyed blond, so I just said, ‘Yep.'”
Throughout the novel, Jonny’s controlling stage mother seems to be losing control, allowing her son to be exposed to parts of the world she had actively tried to avoid. Wayne hits a high point of the story when Jonny befriends members of the older, hipster band – hilariously dubbed The Latchkeys – that his record label has chosen to open for him. When all of their techniques seem to oppose everything Jonny has been taught, we see the first cracks in the perfect package that had been built around him.
With smart wit and memorable characters, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a captivating look into the heart of pop culture that goes well beyond bubblegum.