For fans of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, here is a scathing and enthralling new novel about America’s monstrous obsession with fame from the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award.
Megastar Jonny Valentine, 11-year-old icon of bubblegum pop, knows that the fans don’t love him for who he is. His image, his voice, and even his hairdo have been packaged - by his LA label and by his hard-partying manager-mother - into bite-size pieces for easy digestion, sliding down the gullet of mass culture, the biggest appeal to the widest demographic. But somewhere inside the relentless marketing machine is still a little boy, devoted to his mother and determined to find his absent father among the countless, faceless fans - isn’t there?
A twisted, brilliant, and viciously funny coming-of-age story set inside corporate arenas and luxury hotel suites, Teddy Wayne’s The Love Song of Jonny Valentine explores with devastating clarity the underbelly of fame in 21st-century America’s celebrity culture, told through the eyes of one of the most unforgettable child narrators since Holden Caulfield. This novel is a literary masterpiece from the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of Kapitoil - one of the standout writers of his generation.
Teddy Wayne is the award-winning author of Kapitoil and a journalist who contributes to a variety of national publications.
©2013 Teddy Wayne (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"The Love Song of Jonny Valentine takes us deep into the dark arts and even darker heart of mass-market celebrity, 21st-century version. In the near-pubescent hitmaker of the title, Teddy Wayne delivers a wild ride through the upper echelons of the entertainment machine as it ingests human beings at one end and spews out dollars at the other. Jonny’s like all the rest of us, he wants to love and be loved, and as this brilliant novel shows, that’s a dangerous way to be when you’re inside the machine." (Ben Fountain, New York Times best-selling author)
"I’d wanted to go slowly and read The Love Song of Jonny Valentine over the course of a week or two, but once Jonny’s voice got into my head, I was hooked and kept picking it back up, and so I ended up on the last page, reading that final, amazing sentence, at like three in the morning. This novel is a serious accomplishment.… America as we know it, with laughs on every page, but also a book that doesn’t take one cheap shot.… And at the swirling core, you have an 11-year-old boy trapped by his fame and trying to figure out how to move through the world, and who wants nothing more than to find his father. This is a book with a runaway narrative engine, tremendous ambitions, and an even bigger heart. I do not lie when I tell you: Teddy Wayne is as good a young writer as we have." (Charles Bock, New York Times best-selling author)
"What is most searing about Teddy Wayne’s splendid new novel is not his trenchant social criticism, nor the itchy, unsettling way that he makes tragedy entertaining, but that in the bubble of celebrity which comprises little Jonny Valentine’s whole world, at times the only differences between the savvy, drug-taking, lonely adults and the savvy, drug-taking, lonely kid himself are his outsized talent, and their avarice plus wrinkles." (Helen Schulman, New York Times best-selling author)
Jonny Valentine is an amazing creation, an 11-year-old pop superstar with a combination of naivete, ambition, sincerity and street smarts--at least about the music business and what it takes to be successful. Teddy Wayne has created a deeply sympathetic character, a boy genius (in his field) surrounded by grown-up handlers who themselves have mixed emotions and motivations, using Jonny while also trying to help him grow. There are touching moments where Jonny's loneliness on his American tour comes through, but also laugh-out-loud moments. Some of the most moving scenes involve Jonny's interactions with kids around his own age, a childhood friend, a budding female singer that could be Jonny's first crush.
After a while, Jonny began to remind me of Huck Finn, another lonely kid traveling the country, trying to handle the world on his own and dealing with manipulative and often selfish adults with humor and increasing maturity. But Huck didn't have video games to distract him.
The narrator has just the right tone, conveying Jonny's longings and his youthful innocence. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its narration.
I was reluctant to try this one--the subject didn't thrill me--but a NYT book review convinced me to take a chance and I'm so glad I did. Writing from the point of view of a fictional Justin Bieber-type tween idol, the author is able to gleefully skewer the entertainment industry at every turn (his take on music reviewers had me laughing out loud) while still managing to make you care--very much-- about everyone involved.
I also recently listened to A Hologram for the King and The Financial Lives of poets, both of which, like Jonny V, were excellently crafted and well-narrated fictionalized commentaries on contemporary life.
While Jonny is pretty easy to love, I found the portrayal of his mother to be unexpectedly moving. There's a lot to dislike about her (and her real-life counterparts), but as her flaws and circumstances are revealed, it's hard not to admire her initiative and innate business sense.
If you're looking for enjoyable/listenable well-written contemporary fiction, I highly recommend this one.
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