The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
By Teddy Wayne
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9781476705859, 304pp.)
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
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When Whiting Writers’ Award winner Teddy Wayne published his critically acclaimed debut, Kapitoil, it was hailed as “one of the best novels of [this] generation” by the Boston Globe and was shortlisted for a spate of national prizes.
Jonathan Franzen wrote in The Daily Beast that “no other writer, as far as I know, has invented such a funny and compelling voice and story for [this type of character.]” Now, in The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Wayne turns his sharp wit, flawless narrative ventriloquism, and humane sensibility to our monstrous obsession with fame.
Megastar Jonny Valentine, eleven-year-old icon of bubblegum pop, knows that the fans don’t love him for who he is. The talented singer’s image, voice, and even hairdo have been relentlessly packaged—by his L.A. label and his hard-partying manager-mother, Jane—into bite-size pabulum. But within the marketing machine, somewhere, Jonny is still a vulnerable little boy, perplexed by his budding sexuality and his heartthrob status, dependent on Jane, and endlessly searching for his absent father in Internet fan sites, lonely emails, and the crowds of faceless fans.
Poignant, brilliant, and viciously funny, told through the eyes of one of the most unforgettable child narrators, this literary masterpiece explores with devastating insight and empathy the underbelly of success in 21st-century America. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a tour de force by a standout voice of his generation.
Teddy Wayne, the author of Kapitoil, is the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award and a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, PEN/Bingham Prize, and Dayton Literary Peace Prize. He writes regularly for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. He lives in New York.
"It speaks well of both Jonny and his creator that the result is this good, a moving, entertaining novel that is both poignant and pointed — a sweet, sad skewering of the celebrity industry...his satirist's eye is impeccable...so limpidly does Wayne imitate the voice of a preteen celebrity, he risks making it look easy...to create out of that entitled adolescent voice a being of true longing and depth, and then to make him such a devastating weapon of cultural criticism — these are feats of unlikely virtuosity, like covering Jimi Hendrix on a ukulele...Embodying a character who might otherwise be easy to dismiss, Wayne has crafted a funny, affecting tour of our cultural wasteland...you’d have to be made of triple platinum not to ache for Jonny Valentine."
"Sad-funny, sometimes cutting...more than a scabrous sendup of American celebrity culture; it’s also a poignant portrait of one young artist’s coming of age."
"A fiery, sometimes funny...critique of the exploitation of children at the hands of the rapacious music industry." (London Review of Books)
"Switchblade-keen satirist Teddy Wayne. . .delves into the twisted world of celebrity culture with delicious, detailed insight. It's as if People magazine were written by Kurt Vonnegut, smart and fun and fanged... there are also great swaths of heart and pain and genuine compassion."
"Surprisingly moving...heartbreaking...A mix of pre-adolescent angst and industry cynicism that makes him sound like Holden Caulfield Jr. adrift in Access Hollywood hell." (Rolling Stone)
"Heartbreakingly convincing...Hate Bieber? Wayne's touching portrait might change your mind."
“Deft and delightful . . . touching (and unexpectedly suspenseful) . . . so frank and engaging . . . A sweeter, softer-edged satire of the pop-culture carnival.” (Wall Street Journal)
"'The Love Song of Jonny Valentine' is a fun, highly diverting read.…Wayne generates considerable sympathy for the 11-year-old kid trapped at the center of the churning entertainment machine….This is a portrait of the artist as a young brand.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
"It would be easy to simply satirize the life and times of an 11-year-old pop star. But while Wayne does riff on America's obsessions with youth, celebrity and weight, among other things, he chooses to take his hero seriously….If Justin Bieber provides the book's cultural context, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" gives it its soul…. [An] entertaining novel about the pop-celebrity-Internet air we all breathe, even if we don't want to inhale."
"The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” is a showstopper….The book’s greatest triumph — and there are many — is Jonny’s voice, which falls somewhere between bright-eyed kid and jaded industry veteran (of course, he is both)….In addition to an exquisite rendering of Jonny’s growing awareness, the novel provides other delights [and] plenty of genuinely affecting moments. As Jonny realizes he has the money and power of an island nation, he feels the disappointments of his life more keenly and asserts himself in ways that aren’t anywhere near family friendly; we discover he is a flawed child in addition to an exploited one and empathize with him because of it. In the end, “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” is a serious book that is way more fun than the life of a child star." (Boston Globe)
"Heartbreaking and amusing...more than anything, Jonny reminded me of Jack, the 5-year-old captive narrator of Emma Donoghue's Room. Like Room, this novel takes a sordid tabloid situation and illuminates it with a child's voice so real you want to climb inside the book and rescue him."
"Through Wayne’s assured prose and captivating storytelling, we see Jonny as one large cog in the entertainment machine—who, despite how talented he may be, knows he may soon be replaced by a younger model." (Oprah.com, Book of the Week)
"A buoyant, smart, searing portrait of our culture's obsession with young pop stars." (Entertainment Weekly)
"Depicting the inner life of a protagonist who is not yet a full-fledged adult is no small feat, but author Teddy Wayne pulls it off masterfully." (The Daily Beast)
"Masterfully executed...the real accomplishment is the unforgettable voice of Jonny. If this impressive novel, both entertaining and tragically insightful, were a song, it would have a Michael Jackson beat with Morrissey lyrics."
“At once brilliantly funny and beautifully written…The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a novel of many distinctions…Consistently engaging and lively.…Wayne never sacrifices the reader’s sympathies. Jonny is a victim of popular culture, and we wince for him throughout brilliantly awkward set-pieces: a choreographed “homecoming” where he completely fails to communicate with a former best friend, an ill-fated trip to a nightclub with his mischievous support act and an appearance on a Letterman-esque show that channels David Foster Wallace.…If there is any justice in the world, with The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Wayne will have penned a chart-busting hit.” (New York Daily News)
“Harrowing, hilarious…It's less a coming-of-age story than a price-of-this-age story, where self-promotion is the equivalent of self-preservation. In The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Wayne manages to negotiate a character so original, so multitextured, and teetering so precariously between innocence and emptiness, the result is a stunning achievement in literary zeitgeist."
"The best—and only—tween-pop novel you'll ever read. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, the second novel from rising star Teddy Wayne, depicts the world of prepackaged pop through the eyes of a precocious 11-year-old tween idol (think Justin Bieber by way of Holden Caulfield)." (Details)
"Wayne brilliantly narrates from the perspective of Jonny's tweenage prison...Reading about Jonny means rooting for him, even though there is a sense that he, like so many real stars who we will never know so well, is already long gone." (Boston Phoenix)
"Few novels with child narrators can truly appeal to adults in a complex way. Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away and, of course, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are obvious exceptions, and we can add this novel to the list."
"Think an imagined life of a star like Bieber...but so much better; moving and hilarious and typical of Wayne.” (The Atlantic Wire)
"Provocative and bittersweet…Jonny is such an engaging, sympathetic character that his voice carries the novel...A very funny novel when it isn't so sad, and vice versa."
— Kirkus (starred review)
"Hilarious and heartbreaking...An original, poignant and captivating coming-of-age story...a breathtakingly fresh novel about the dark side of show business."