“The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” by Teddy Wayne (2013) – 285 pages
Have you ever read a novel that was absolutely unsuited for you?
“The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” has been called the Justin Bieber novel. What ever possessed me to read this book? That is an excellent question.
It all started when I happened to glance at a review of Jonny Valentine which mentioned “A Visit from the Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan, “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates, and “Room” by Emma Donoghue. I liked all of those books and usually like novels about show or music people, so I thought I’d give Jonny Valentine a try.
I should have known better.
“The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” is the story of tween (Urban Dictionary definition: girls too old for toys, too young for boys.) superstar Jonny Valentine; the eleven year old singing sensation is lonely even though he has millions of adoring girl fans. There are a few main people in his life. First there is his mother Jane who also serves as his controlling manager. They usually share adjoining rooms in the hotels where they stay. Jonny spends hours and hours playing the video game The Secret Land of Zenon. Then there is Walter who is the world-wise bodyguard and somewhat father figure for Jonny. Also there are his personal tutor Nadine and his voice coach Rog. Jonny’s real father is locked out from his life by his mother.
Jonny’s life consists of traveling from city to city performing shows in arenas and convention centers. Since Jonny is nearly 12, his record company arranges for him to be photographed with Lisa Pinto, another tween star, who is a couple of years older than he is, for some pictures to put in the teen tabloids. One time his opening act band, the Latchkeys, takes him to a nightclub and he gets drunk, and it ends up in all the papers. The mother fires the band as his opening act, and she controls Jonny’s life more than ever.
I really can’t complain about the writing style in this novel; Teddy Wayne tells the story well. The problem for me is that this story has become so trite. This is the old, old story of the singing superstar living in a solitary goldfish bowl where everyone can watch him, yet he is so totally isolated. I believe this novel would make fine reading for teenagers who somehow aren’t yet familiar with this story, but us adults have seen this plot played out a thousand times not only in films, TV shows, and books but also in real life.
Maybe the problem with “Jonny Valentine” is that the novel doesn’t venture in to any new territory, nor does it contain anything new about Jonny’s plight. With an 11-year-old narrator trapped in this superstar situation, you probably are not going to get much in the way of original or profound insights. It would have been more interesting with an objective adult observer such as the bodyguard witnessing what’s happening. The classic examples of interesting young boy narrators are Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”, and those two books are vivid because the boys are having a good time, and they put a humorous slant to the goings on. Jonny Valentine is definitely not having a good time.
For me this is just another example of picking a novel that was wrong for me.