The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: A Novel

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Overview


For fans of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde, a scathing and unputdownable new novel about America’s monstrous obsession with fame, from the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award.

Megastar Jonny Valentine, eleven-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, ...

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Overview


For fans of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde, a scathing and unputdownable new novel about America’s monstrous obsession with fame, from the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award.

Megastar Jonny Valentine, eleven-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 inside the relentless marketing machine, somewhere, 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 twenty-first century America’s celebrity culture, told through the eyes of one of the most unforgettable child narrators since Holden Caulfield. From the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of Kapitoil, this new novel is a literary masterpiece by one of the standout writers of his generation.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
As he did in his critically acclaimed debut novel, Kapitoil…Mr. Wayne seems intent on satirizing the absurdities of late-stage capitalism. In this case he sends up America's obsession with celebrity and the insatiable, implacable fame machine that eats up artists and dreams, lacquers the talented and untalented alike with glitz, and spits out merchandise and publicity in a never-ending cycle of commodification…What makes Mr. Wayne's portraits of Jonny, his mother and the tour staff so persuasive—and affecting, in the end—is his refusal to sentimentalize them, combined with his assiduous avoidance of easy stereotypes…Mr. Wayne depicts Jonny as a complicated, searching boy, by turns innocent and sophisticated beyond his years, eager to please and deeply resentful, devoted to his unusual talent and aware of both its rewards and its costs. This is what makes The Love Song more than a scabrous sendup of American celebrity culture; it's also a poignant portrait of one young artist's coming of age.
The Washington Post - Steve Donoghue
Fans of Wayne's sharp debut novel, Kapitoil, which won the Whiting Award, will delight in his signature deadpan wit here…There's greater complexity and warmth in this new book, though. Wayne gets in well-aimed jabs at the big business of contemporary stadium-rock, but at its heart The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is about a boy in a desperate hurry to grow up. We aren't even vaguely tempted to snicker.
The New York Times Book Review - Jess Walter
Poor Jonny Valentine, the über-talented Bieberesque hero of Teddy Wayne's new novel…Onto these thin, prepubescent shoulders, the very funny Wayne has heaped the full weight of our obnoxious, vacuous, fame-sodden culture. 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…in the end it's the voice that pulls you into this novel. Embodying a character who might otherwise be easy to dismiss, Wayne has crafted a funny, affecting tour of our cultural wasteland.
Publishers Weekly
A coming-of-age tale with a modern context, this sharply written novel from the Whiting Writers’ Award-winning author of Kapitoil pulls back the curtain on the 21st-century fame machine. Not unlike a certain fever-inducing pop star, ‘tween sensation Jonny Valentine went from YouTube to Madison Square Garden with bubblegum hits like “Guys vs. Girls” and “U R Kewt.” Now each decision on his national tour is choreographed for mass appeal, from what team to feature on his baseball hat, to the femme pop star with whom his label stages a date. Along for the ride is his mom Jane, micromanaging his image, scheduling weekly weigh-ins, and generally fending off normalcy to keep a good thing going. But through an intimate first-person characterization masterfully executed by Wayne, we see fame through Jonny’s complicated point of view. Beneath the rote catechism of his overmanaged career (“Jane says we’re in the business of making fat girls feel like they’re pretty for a few hours”) are the wholehearted yearnings of a conflicted 11-year-old: his obsession with getting a successful erection, a desire to be like his musical idols, and most of all a quest to reconnect with his father. The smart skewering of the media, both highbrow and low, is wickedly on target. And a mock New Yorker article is a memorable literary lampoon. But 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. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb.)
The National (UAE)
"Laid out in a surprisingly poignant mix of cynicism and innocence, Wayne intertwines both Jonny and Jonathan's voices into a sublime plot, making it an unconventional coming-of-age story that digs beneath the glossy veneer of mainstream pop."
BookPage
"Hilarious and heartbreaking...An original, poignant and captivating coming-of-age story...a breathtakingly fresh novel about the dark side of show business.
Entertainment Weekly
"A buoyant, smart, searing portrait of our culture's obsession with young pop stars."
Oprah.com
"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."
Details
"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)."
The Atlantic Wire
"Think an imagined life of a star like Bieber...but so much better; moving and hilarious and typical of Wayne.”
New York Daily News
“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.”
Aryn Kyle
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a novel of ferocious wit and surprising poignancy. Teddy Wayne has written a pitch-perfect anthem for our surreal American Dream, a power ballad for the twenty-first-century unhappy family, an epic ode to the fleeting glory of fame....Adored by his fans, enslaved by the music industry, Jonny Valentine navigates the high-stakes game of celebrity while secretly longing for the love of his missing dad. And we, in turn, long for him to hold on to his soulful spirit, his baby chub, his cri de coeur, his "major vulnerabilities." A deeply entertaining novel with humor and heart to spare.” (Amber Dermont, New York Times bestselling author of The Starboard Sea)

“In Jonny Valentine, Teddy Wayne has created a vivid and achingly authentic portrait of an adolescent prodigy trying to make sense of a world from which he’s been kept mostly separate. Wry, witty, and genuinely moving, this is a novel that delves into the private longings of a public figure, exposing the sometimes dark and often ridiculous inner workings of a life in show business. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is absorbing and beautifully written—and also a ton of fun to read.”

From the Publisher
"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."

"Heartbreakingly convincing...Hate Bieber? Wayne's touching portrait might change your mind."

"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."

“Deft and delightful . . . touching (and unexpectedly suspenseful) . . . so frank and engaging . . . A sweeter, softer-edged satire of the pop-culture carnival.”

"'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.”

"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."

"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."

"A buoyant, smart, searing portrait of our culture's obsession with young pop stars."

New York Times Book Review (cover review and Editors' Choice) - Jess Walter
"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."
BookPageFiction Top Pick
"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 itisn'tso 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."

People Magazine
"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."
Fiction Top Pick - Booklist
"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."
Rolling Stone
"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."
Wall Street Journal
“Deft and delightful . . . touching (and unexpectedly suspenseful) . . . so frank and engaging . . . A sweeter, softer-edged satire of the pop-culture carnival.”
San Francisco Chronicle
"'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.”
Boston Globe
"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."
Book of the Week Oprah.com
"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."
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative and bittersweet illumination of celebrity from the perspective of an 11-year-old pop sensation. In his second novel (Kapitoil, 2010), Wayne once again sees American culture through the eyes of an exceptional outsider--in this case, a pre-pubescent pop star managed by his mother and exploited by everyone involved with his life and career. As the novel's narrator, Jonny is a complex character who is both wise beyond his years (in the areas of marketing, merchandising and branding) and more naïve in relating to others his age and the world beyond show business. He seems most at home either onstage or in the video game that becomes a metaphor for his life. And if the novel has a weakness, it's that Wayne seems a little too fond of the telegraphed punch of such symbolism, as when Jonny must write a paper for his tutor about slavery and discovers (surprise!) that much of what he has learned applies to him. Yet, Jonny is such an engaging, sympathetic character that his voice carries the novel, from what he does know ("that was the whole point of becoming a rock star for a lot of guys. I didn't know that when I started out, but once you see seriously ugly bassists backstage with models, you figure it out") to what he doesn't (crucial details about his mother, father, family and career). Rather than turning Jonny into a caricature or a figure of scorn the way some of his critics do ("a cult of personality swirling around a human being who...may not be in possession of...an actual personality"), the novel invites the reader inside Jonny's fishbowl, showing what it takes to gain and sustain what he has and how easily he could lose it. Best of all is his relationship with an artist who made it through this arduous rite of passage, the Timberlake to Jonny's Bieber, who teaches him that "The people with real power are always behind the scenes. Talent gets chewed up and used. Better to be the one chewing." A very funny novel when it isn't so sad, and vice versa.
Helen Schulman
“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.”
BookPage Fiction Top Pick
"Think an imagined life of a star like Bieber...but so much better; moving and hilarious and typical of Wayne.” (The Atlantic Wire)

"Hilarious and heartbreaking...An original, poignant and captivating coming-of-age story...a breathtakingly fresh novel about the dark side of show business."

Ben Fountain
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine takes us deep into the dark arts and even darker heart of mass-market celebrity, twenty-first-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.”
Charles Bock
“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 eleven-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.”
Amber Dermont
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a novel of ferocious wit and surprising poignancy. Teddy Wayne has written a pitch-perfect anthem for our surreal American Dream, a power ballad for the twenty-first-century unhappy family, an epic ode to the fleeting glory of fame....Adored by his fans, enslaved by the music industry, Jonny Valentine navigates the high-stakes game of celebrity while secretly longing for the love of his missing dad. And we, in turn, long for him to hold on to his soulful spirit, his baby chub, his cri de coeur, his "major vulnerabilities." A deeply entertaining novel with humor and heart to spare.”
New York Times bestselling author of The God of An Aryn Kyle
“In Jonny Valentine, Teddy Wayne has created a vivid and achingly authentic portrait of an adolescent prodigy trying to make sense of a world from which he’s been kept mostly separate. Wry, witty, and genuinely moving, this is a novel that delves into the private longings of a public figure, exposing the sometimes dark and often ridiculous inner workings of a life in show business. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is absorbing and beautifully written—and also a ton of fun to read.”
People
"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."

Tampa Bay Times
"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."
BookReporter.com
"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."

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
"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." (Jess Walter, New York Times Book Review (cover review and Editors' Choice)

"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."

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“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."

Newsday
"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."

Interview
"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)

“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."

Library Journal
Jonny Valentine is a talented tween singing sensation, much like Justin Bieber. This often scathing satire of manufactured celebrity follows the travails of the 11-year-old singer who is both its beneficiary and its victim. The novel centers on an eventful national tour that finds him embroiled in a fake romance for publicity purposes with a young female pop star, making an awkward visit to his hometown of St. Louis, generating bad publicity over a misadventure with the indie rock band opening his concerts, garnering more bad publicity after his mother/manager's cocaine overdose, and finally in a concert at Madison Square Garden where he reconnects with his long-estranged father. VERDICT Narrated by the young singing sensation himself, the novel rides on the appealing combination of Jonny's innocence and wisdom beyond his years. This is ultimately a satire with a heart, capturing the sadness, longing, and confusion beneath the celebrity veneer as Johnny tries to make sense of the confusing adult world around him and be loved in a way that has nothing to do with star-struck fans. A top-of-the-charts tale.—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib., North Andover, MA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781476705859
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 2/5/2013
  • Pages: 285
  • Sales rank: 1,153,745
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


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.
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Interviews & Essays

About a Boy Band: Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Teddy Wayne

Teddy Wayne's 2010 debut novel, Kapitoil — in which a Qatar- born oil futures phenom enters the cutthroat world of Wall Street high finance — evoked themes of capitalism and innocence juxtaposed, with the allure of wealth and power at odds with our simpler desires. With The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Wayne extends Kapitoil's sharp-edged focus on twenty-first-century American ambition — in particular, the will to win found in the nation's increasingly multitasking youth. Love Song chronicles the titular eleven-year-old pop star, who might remind you of a certain real-life teen heartthrob with angelic pipes and impossibly good hair. Grade- schooler Jonathan Valentino becomes millionaire Valentine when his supermarket cashier mom, Jane, uploads videos of his crooning to YouTube and effects his miraculous translation into celebrity. Now his full-time manager, hyper-driven Jane sings Jonny lullabies over the phone, monitors his diet in an effort to keep his body childlike, and watches her son seek refuge in an immersive role-playing video game. Yet the book's sharpest asset is its avoidance of simplified character clichés. Jonny and Jane confront stardom's harsh realities not only as savvy, oft-obsessive fame seekers but also as a nurturing mother and her devoted child.

It seems possible that Wayne might relate to his invented prodigal sons. A winner of the Whiting Writers' Award for Kapitoil, he is at age thirty-three an accomplished author and journalist, as well as a wickedly incisive humorist. His satirical work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Barnes & Noble Review's "Grin & Tonic," and The New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" — a venue Wayne parodies in the pages of Jonny Valentine itself. In a conversation via email, Teddy Wayne offered some insights on the origins of his interest in pop wunderkinder, the effects of media marketing on both his writing and our culture at large, and offered up a generation-spanning playlist that suggested pop music is no laughing matter. —Bill Tipper

The Barnes & Noble Review: There are two initial surprises, I think, in store for most readers of your novel. The first is that eleven- year-old Jonny Valentine—a child pop superstar who shares a number of attributes with the slightly older real-world singer Justin Bieber—is so immediately sympathetic. The second is that he's not just a musical prodigy but clearly an intellectual one as well.

Teddy Wayne: Your protagonist need not be likable (contrary to the wisdom of book publishers) but must simply be interesting. Yet as an author, it does help to like your main character, if only because of the sheer amount of time you spend with him. Although Jonny is not without his flaws — he can flaunt his power over others, engages in perverse sexual fantasies, and has a dismissive attitude toward his fans — he's fundamentally a vulnerable little boy who wants to love and be loved. That's a drive all of us can relate to, even if we don't understand what it's like to perform on a global stage.

Nearly all child narrators in adult literature are wiser than their years, and a high percentage are, in fact, prodigies of some stripe, often verbal. This is because an actual child's voice is seldom compelling enough to maintain an adult reader's attention over an entire novel (there are exceptions, of course, such as Emma Donoghue's Room). I didn't want to write about an eleven-year-old who speaks like a creative- writing professor, so I came up with a hybrid voice for him: half naïve child, half marketing-savvy professional. The tonal opposite of naïveté is someone who wants to sell you something you don't need, and I enjoyed writing about this collision of voices within one person.

BNR: That "marketing savvy" permeates Jonny's world and produces some counterintuitive effects. Jonny may be a performer — and clearly a talented one—but he's also throughout this book a keen observer of the people around him, though he applies the peculiar lens of the show business world he's adopted to almost every interaction.

TW: Jonny's "marketing" voice was inspired in part by writing, on and off for two years, a now-defunct short business column about media and marketing for The New York Times called "Drilling Down." Each week, I'd interview someone who would un-self- consciously rattle off phrases like "develop our assets in the digital space" or "build a corporate identity." This seemed like an emblematic idiom for our entrepreneurial and narcissistic era in which regular people, let alone celebrities, refer to their "personal brands" and recreate the experience of fame by documenting their lives on social media.

What makes this mode of thought and behavior pernicious, I think, is that it can bleed into interactions that should have nothing to do with selling or broadcasting yourself. (Which is something most of us have to do some of the time, such as me, right now, in this interview. Our age is also defined by its hypocrisy.) It's most explicit when you see two people at a table in a restaurant, both texting on their phones, or when someone would rather take a photo of his hike and post it to Instagram than savor it as a private experience. In Jonny's case, he no longer has any sense of how to engage others as a regular person, so it's easier to slip into his default mode as an entertainer hawking his most salable product — his celebrity.

BNR: But he's not just a marketing savant — he's also legitimately and pretty passionately interested in how pop music is made. At one point he breaks down Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" in a completely convincing analysis of why it's a song that "anyone with a pulse loves" — and more or less humbly admits he'd be grateful if he could ever create something like it himself.

TW: It was important for Jonny to have some musical authenticity buried deep under the Top 40 exterior to mirror the real human being trapped within the media-friendly persona. And though most mainstream pop is an exercise in corporate production, with pronounced division of labor, mechanical alteration of the original sound, and heavily backed marketing, the occasional genius, like Michael Jackson, still manages to express his personal vision and create lasting art. Jonny comes to recognize that he's not getting the chance to do so and is simply a cog in the machine, a slave to his masters — both his label and the fickle public.

According to my research, Michael Jackson really did work for three weeks on the bass line to "Billie Jean." As Jonny would say, that's consummate professionalism.

BNR: In a way it's a whole world of "consummate professionalism"—Jonny's own frightening absorption into the craft of hitmaking and media spectacle, his coterie of specialized handlers, and his manager-mother Jane. Did it require a lot of research to put yourself within that very insulated world?

TW: A fair amount of my information came from simply being an avid, longtime fan of music, and keeping one ear open when celebrity gossip crosses my path. It probably helps that I've worked as a journalist for a number of years and live in the media epicenter of New York. Beyond that, I read various child-star memoirs and biographies, as well as works about specific aspects of the music industry. Yet a fiction- writing maxim is to do as little research as possible — not out of laziness, but because you don't want facts to get in the way of your imagination or to serve as proof to the reader that you've done your homework. I'd rather invent something that is moving and aesthetically engaging than plug in the true-to-life, inert detail. No one loves a novel because of its unerring accuracy. That said, I did ask some people who've worked in the music industry to vet the manuscript for anything that felt too outlandish.

BNR: In terms of its excesses or strangeness, did reality ever outstrip your imagination of the life of a child celebrity? TW: Drew Barrymore's childhood, among others, was rife with excess, and Michael Jackson's upbringing sounds none too fun. But to saturate the novel with sex and drugs would simply play to our "behind-the-music" preconceptions about celebrity and detract from the small, less flashy moments that underscore Jonny's loneliness. I dislike it when fictional portrayals of lifestyles of the rich and famous focus so heavily on the reckless glamour inherent in these worlds and end up romanticizing that which they are ostensibly condemning. More compelling to me are the human details and episodes that exist outside the spheres of money and fame: for instance, Jonny playing a video game in his hotel room to ward off his isolation. Such a scene might not warrant inclusion in a biography of a real child star, but, to me, it defines a person's character more clearly and originally than a cocaine binge at a nightclub does.

Nonetheless, it's been strange to see various scenes from the novel see their equivalents in real life, from the lighthearted [Justin Bieber vomiting onstage] to the frightening [the plot to castrate and murder Bieber].

BNR: Let's talk about the portrait of Jonny's mother, Jane— a character at least as complex as her son. Jane is a former supermarket cashier and single mother who seems to have shrugged off her former life to embrace her role as Jonny's manager as if she'd found her life's work. The first conversation we overhear between Jane and her son involves Jonny, sleepless in his hotel room, asking her for a lullaby over her cell phone, which she delivers, along with the suggestion that he use a pharmaceutical sleep aid. I think in that exchange we see the uneasy dynamic between care and neglect, between business dealings and human love, that characterizes much of her mothering.

TW: The stage mom is nothing if not a hoary trope by now, so I was conscious of the need to depict Jane as a real mother whose hunger for fame — even more so than money — is in constant combat with her maternal instincts. There are moments she exhibits genuine tenderness and love for her son, and those need to be there for the reader to accept her overweening business ambitions. She wants to leave behind her former identity and life completely except for the sole fact that she remains Jonny's mother. He has a more uneasy relationship with his new persona, clinging to bits of his pre-fame past. She's monstrous at many points, but I hope there are enough times when we see the cracks in her facade and her own pains. Both of them are seeking love, but Jane is more comfortable using the public for her sense of self-worth than Jonny is.

BNR: Did your conception of her change over time as you wrote the novel?

TW: As with most characters, she was less fleshed out in the early drafts, and my many readers helped round her out more. To me, she embodies the direction our culture has shifted the last ten to fifteen years. We increasingly view fame as an antidote to whatever ails us, and deem it worth pursuing at any price — whether it's eating live insects on a reality show or subjecting one's child to a lifestyle that isn't necessarily in his best interests. I also thought of Jane as a Tiger Mom of sorts, albeit not one academically inclined. My view is that childhood nowadays has far fewer freedoms than it once did. Parents fret far more than they used to about their children's safety and health and over- prepare them for the future in ways that are often counterproductive. Their offspring's independence is compromised, as is their ability to make and learn from their mistakes — one of the privileges of childhood. A friend said that this novel is like an American version of Donoghue's Room, but with the mom as the captor. That seems like an insightful (and flattering) assessment.

BNR: What's your sense of Jonny's future? Are you optimistic for him?

TW: I don't want to give anything away, but I like endings in which the story that's been told is definitively wrapped up, but there's still some open-endedness that projects beyond the narrative conclusion. It's my hope that different readers will have varying responses to the end, as they seemed to have with my first novel, Kapitoil.

BNR: I'm imagining that writing this book made you listen to pop music differently—but is that in fact the case?

TW: A little bit. Research on these songs are made — how manufactured and produced they are — gave me more respect for the amount of work put into them, even if I didn't enjoy listening to them any more, or continued believing that their creation stems from cynical, market-baiting impulses, and not always the desire to make lasting art. I also found a few very poppy songs I confess to liking, such as One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful"; I remain a sucker for a good, simple I-IV-V chord progression (as in Grease's "Summer Nights," which the opening of their song sounds suspiciously similar to). And Bieber's "Boyfriend," at least the rapping part, feels like a quantum leap forward from his previous songs, as would any song that includes this rhyming couplet: "Swag, swag, swag, on you / Chillin' by the fire while we eatin' fondue."

BNR: Did you listen to music while writing?

TW: Usually, yes, though it helps if it's music I know well enough that I'm not distracted, such as Bob Dylan. For this book, though, I frequently went back to the Clash, my first musical love, which Jonny gets introduced to by his older opening band.

BNR: Can you give us a short list of your favorite songs?

TW: The aforementioned Dylan alone would eat up several paragraphs, and the list grows each month, but I'll quickly go through my iTunes library now, listing just a few, one song maximum per artist, that have meant a lot to me over the years, even if I may not listen to them that much now:

The Be Good Tanyas, "The Littlest Birds"
The Beatles, "Twist and Shout"
Bob Dylan, "Do't Think Twice, It's All Right"
Built to Spill, "Strange"
Carla Bruni, "Quelqu'un m'a Dit"
Cat Power, "Empty Shell"
Chuck Brodsky, "Radio"
The Clash, "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais"
The Crystals, "And Then He Kissed Me"
Dan Bern, "Chelsea Hotel"
The Felice Brothers, "Frankie's Gun" Heartless Bastards, "All This Time"
The Jackson Five, "I Want You Back"
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Braver Newer World"
Kath Bloom, "Love Makes It All Worthwhile"
Keren Ann, "Not Going Anywhere"
Kid Cudi, "Pursuit of Happiness"
Led Zeppelin, "Over the Hills and Far Away"
Leonard Cohen, "So Long, Marianne"
Little Joy, "Don't Watch Me Dancing"
Liz Phair, "Polyester Bride"
Lucinda Williams, "Side of the Road"
Neutral Milk Hotel, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"
Okkervil River, "Red"
Pavement, "Summer Babe"
The Pixies, "Where Is My Mind?"
Prince, "Kiss"
Regina Spektor, "Fidelity" (especially a stripped-down version she played on NPR years ago)
The Rolling Stones, "Beast of Burden"
Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the U.K."
Tom Waits, "Cold Cold Ground"
The Troggs, "Any Way That You Want Me"
Tommy James, "Crimson and Clover"
Vashti Bunyan, "Come Wind Come Rain"
The Velvet Underground, "Heroin"
The Wheel, "My Hanging Surrender"
Wilco, "Hesitating Beauty"

That was more than I intended, and I left off too many favorites. I really like making mix CDs for friends.

February 1, 2013

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 13, 2013

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Call me a crazy

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

    Call me a crazy teen pop fan, but I loved this book that is completely loosely based on the life of a teen pop star maybe like a certain Justin Bieber.  As I grew up along side the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, I may have a close affection for anything pop and teen!  Jonathan Valentino or Jonny Valentine is a very very young 11 year old singing sensation who through YouTube has gotten a record deal and is in the middle of a tour across the U.S.  The book takes you through the cities of his tour, along the road are quite a few antics with his momager, security, vocal coach, tutor and so many others that impact this teen heartthrob!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 3, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Where do you go when you are too far away from home to return?

    Where do you go when you are too far away from home to return?

    Jonny Valentine is an eleven-year-old child prodigy with the voice of an angel and a mother who managed to capture his talent
    and run with it all the way to the bank.  This does not make Jane mother of the year but her ability to tap into a market ripe
    with cash flow is her brilliance and control her mantra.  There are chefs, bodyguards, and more entourage than
    Jonny could have ever imagined possible when he started out and still cannot take it all in.  Growing up in the
    spotlight creates an illusion of grandeur it is hard to keep someone regular when like Jonny they are truly extraordinary.    
    People come and go in Jonny’s life, some leaving positive impressions while others provide experiences best not repeated.  
    Jonny must live life in a fish bowl where every move is magnified, and every image reprinted with a caption designed to
     suit the moment.  All the while Jonny sings for his fans, serves to satisfy the masses depending on him for an income
    and searching for real relationships where he can find them.  Jonny also sets out to seek solace from the one man
    missing in his life, his father.  Chasing memories does not always allow you to make them stay.

    There is so much in this captivating read that makes you take a deep breath and pause to take it all in and
    understand the gravity of every decision we make.  The one aspect of this book that is clearly defined is the
    destruction one can have with a misplaced word or ill-timed comment

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 18, 2014

    Mothers, don't let your children grow up to be pop stars.

    Mothers, don't let your children grow up to be pop stars. Unless perhaps you can be their manager. Jonny Valentine is 11 going on 12. He is in the second year of mega-fame as a tween pop idol. Think Justin Bieber. His single mother, abandoned by his father when he was a toddler, is his manager. For an unreliable narrator, he is pretty savvy, but there are some things an 11-year-old boy just can't figure out.

    I read the book because of my long and ambivalent relationship with the music business. It's a manual on how pop stars are created and maintained. It also translates those stories we all pretend we don't read in People Magazine and the tabloids into what really goes on when two stars go on a date or end a romantic relationship, get a bad concert review, etc.

    The book is wildly entertaining even while it breaks your heart every time you remember that Jonny is still shy of his 12th birthday. As we follow him on a multiple city tour and learn how he has to sneak around to even send an email, how lonely he is, how little choice he has over what he eats, and on and on.

    If you want to maintain your illusions about celebrity in the 21st century, do NOT read this book. I think it belongs in an indestructible box of books we can save and all read after the apocalypse, as we rub our heads and say, "What were we thinking?"

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 10, 2013

    initially jonny was not the goal...wanted to read this for the s

    initially jonny was not the goal...wanted to read this for the story...young tween makes good in music...the juice, the meat of the matter...but along the way i heard jonny's heart beating...the valentine part. of him that cried out what about me..his fans, the industry, the media, even his mom and eventually his dad...all wanted some payoff...a piece of jonny that only he could give, a part of his creativity, his energy, his soul...eating and playing video games, his only vices until he found others...and witnessed first hand the results of discovering too many vices...yearning for a connection to a past that had not much to do with his future....jonny and his body guard walter...traveling through the tunnels of life and celebrity...cautiously, carefully, sometimes carelessly...but always caring..sometimes caring too much

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    Posted March 17, 2013

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    Posted May 8, 2013

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