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Written by on May 22, 2013

The love song of Jonny Valentine, by Teddy Wayne

If you’d told me I’d like a novel narrated by a Justin Bieberesque 11-year-old pop star, I would have called you nuts. But I found this tragicomic novel by Teddy Wayne, author of 2011′s Kapitoil, very affecting.

Off on a national tour managed by his party-hearty mother, Jonny the star (not to be confused with “the Jonny”, his trademark hairdo) is heading for a crisis. Furtively logging on to his mother’s computer to try to locate his absent father, worrying his market share in various demographics, and dealing with the specter of a changing voice, his awakening sexuality, and his first pubic hair, Jonny has a lot to fret about, especially for an 11-year-old. Add to that a malfunctioning stage set, and a completely staged “date” with a girl pop star, and it’s no wonder that Jonny’s seriously considering his tutor’s suggestion that he hang it all up and go back to school in his home town.

resized coverWayne does an excellent job of showing us the crazy bubble world of a pop star. Jonny refers frequently to “MJ”, and it’s easy to see how Michael Jackson would be both a hero and a cautionary tale to him. Because he’s so easily recognized, he spends much of his time in his hotel room, obsessively playing a video game, The Secret Land of Zenon, which at times becomes a kind of metaphor for his life. His bodyguard is about the closest thing he has to a friend, though Jonny realizes that he’s only there because he’s getting paid. Jonny’s search for his father moves the plot forward to a satisfying, if bittersweet emotional climax.

I can’t help wondering what Justin Bieber would think of this book.

author photo: Christine Mladic

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