Thursday, July 5, 2018

Book 136: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

"Even if I was way more famous, Lisa acted like she was twice my age, and I should've known from the beginning she'd say no to going out. It'd be like me dating a six-year-old. She'd make it as an actress and singer, because she wasn't a normal kid. She was an adult in a kid's body. If you were just a kid in a kid's body, you might make it, too, as long as you had good management."

Dates read: March 27-30, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Drew Barrymore. Miley Cyrus. Lindsay Lohan. For as long as there have been child stars, it seems, there have been child stars gone awry. How could they not? While most of us are playing and making mistakes and learning under no harsher gaze than those of school bullies, famous kids are working, oftentimes supporting at least some of their family members. So when they start to push at the boundaries and rebel like most teenagers eventually do, they've got further to fall...and a much more public stage to do it on.

Speaking of child stars gone awry, there's always one of our most recent examples: Justin Bieber. And it's not hard to see who was the inspiration behind the protagonist of Teddy Wayne's The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. A preteen singer with a trendy haircut, discovered on social media, with a mother who manages his career, Jonny is on his second nationwide tour when we meet him. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that for all his stardom, Jonny is actually very lonely: besides his mother (whose "momager" position means that her monetary interests are bound up in what's best for Jonny's career, not necessarily what's best for Jonny, and who he refers to by her first name, Jane), his closest confidants are his tutor and his bodyguard.

Jane keeps a very close eye on Jonny's access to the internet, and it's this that kicks off the action: one night when she's out, he sneaks into her hotel room to read about himself. And it's there that he finds a message from a man claiming to be his long-lost father. As his tour continues, Jonny tries to figure out if the commenter is really his father (and what to do if he is), watches his mother struggle personally and professionally, has his own professional struggles, negotiates a fake date with a fellow preteen star, and breaks out of his cloistered bubble a little when a 20something rock band becomes his new opening act.

This sounds like a lot of plot, especially when you're talking about a 300 page book, but Wayne handles it well. Part of the reason he's successful is the way he structures his book: with sections for each day of each stop on the tour, it keeps a constant sense of propulsive motion forward, building naturally towards the climax, the final show. A bigger part of the reason the book works is the voice he creates for Jonny. Simultaneously hopelessly naive in the way that 11 year-olds should be, and cynically jaded about his career and the industry in which he works, there's a tricky balance Wayne pulls off, making Jonny neither a complete sap nor completely bitter.

Some of the themes are handled in a way that's a little too on-the-nose: Jonny's coming-of-age is symbolized by his attempts to figure out how to successfully jack off, and his tutor assigns him a unit on slavery in a clear attempt to draw the parallels with Jonny's situation to both the singer himself and, of course, the reader. And while the story is about Jonny, from his own perspective, I actually found Jane the most interesting character and wish I'd gotten more about her. But having too many interesting and well-rounded characters is a good problem for a book to have. I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it!

Tell me, blog friends...did you ever wish you were famous when you were younger? Do you still?

One year ago, I was reading: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Two years ago, I was reading: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

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