Wonderkid: A Novel


From Wesley Stace—formerly known as singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding—the hugely entertaining novel about the touring life of America’s unlikeliest rock stars

Sold-out concerts, screaming fans, TV shows, Number Ones. This is the rock and roll dream, and the Wonderkids are living it. But something’s wrong. The gigs are sold out, sure, but the halls are packed with little kids—not sexy hipsters. And that screaming? It sounds more wailing, actually. The TV appearances are PBS ...

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Wonderkid: A Novel

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From Wesley Stace—formerly known as singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding—the hugely entertaining novel about the touring life of America’s unlikeliest rock stars

Sold-out concerts, screaming fans, TV shows, Number Ones. This is the rock and roll dream, and the Wonderkids are living it. But something’s wrong. The gigs are sold out, sure, but the halls are packed with little kids—not sexy hipsters. And that screaming? It sounds more wailing, actually. The TV appearances are PBS on Saturday morning, rather than Saturday Night Live, and as for Number Ones . . . you don’t want to know.

Exposed in his impressionable youth to the absurdist literature of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, the Wonderkids’ lead singer, songwriter, and resident mad genius Blake Lear has always written lyrics as silly as they are infectious. Why make sense, he says, when nonsense is so much more fun? Rock and roll has always been for the kids, right?

This is why Blake has no objection when the band is offered a deal with the devil: the Wonderkids will be rock stars, adored and revered. The catch? Their audience will be children. They will be a “kindie” band avant la lettre, before the Wiggles and Dan Zanes were a twinkle in Raffi’s eye. The band takes America by storm, and things go very right—until they go very wrong. The temptations of the road are many, and the Wonderkids are big kids, too.

Narrated by Sweet, a boy Blake adopts on a whim, who becomes the band’s disciple, merch guy, amateur psychologist, and—eventually—damage control guru, Wonderkid is a delirious and surprisingly touching novel of the dangers of compromise, thwarted ambition, and fathers and sons, told with tremendous humor and energy by Wesley Stace—the rare writer who is as comfortable inside a rock club as he is inside a bookstore. A backstage epic of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but also sippy cups, pillow fights, and Baby Bjorns, this is Almost Famous through the looking glass.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist and musician Stace’s (Misfortune) newest takes a lighthearted but uninspired look at the music industry from the perspective of a zany children’s rock group. The Wunderkinds, a British band led by brothers Blake and Jack, doesn’t show much promise, but when their demo tape accidently catches the attention of a producer’s child, their slacker agent, Greg, gets a life-changing offer from an esteemed record company. As the group garners success, the delusional Blake, in his 20s, decides to adopt a troubled teenaged orphan named Sweet, who is also the book’s narrator. After moving to the States, the band is able to reinvent itself as an edgy children’s group with a slightly different name, the Wonderkids. We trail the Wonderkids as they live the expected life of musicians, and Sweet comes of age under Blake’s guidance. Other adoptions are made along the way, but tensions and bad publicity leads to the band’s demise. Most of the novel’s action takes place in the ’90s, but continues into present day when the band is scheduled to play a reunion concert at Prospect Park. Sweet fails to evolve as a character, as does most of Stace’s cast, and though the dialogue is playful and enjoyable, and the characters almost get the reader to buy in, ultimately the book is repetitive and one-note. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In a novel that is equal parts Almost Famous, That Thing You Do, and The Family Fang, musician and author Stace (Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer) has taken the unpredictable lifestyle of rock and roll and given it a twist. After years of living in an orphanage and foster home, teenager Edward Sweet finds himself the newly adopted son of a children's music superstar, Blake Lear. Blake is the front man for the band The Wonderkids, which has found massive success playing nonsensical songs for children. Their concerts are wild performances filled with props, feathers, and toddler mosh pits, but backstage, it's your stereotypical rock scene filled with drugs, arguments among band members, and sex with mom-groupies. Edward spends his formative teenage years learning the ins and outs of life on tour and, in later years, coping with the dysfunctional relationships formed from these lessons. As Blake's initially endearing, wacky behavior and ideas eventually start to unravel and become more unstable than genius, the band slowly falls apart. VERDICT After a slow start, the novel gains momentum and its identity as a story of a father-son relationship set in the whirlwind that is rock music fame. Readers who enjoy rock fiction and memoirs will enjoy this outing by a writer who knows the score.—Madeline Solien, Deerfield P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
A whimsical novel of the rock industry that frequently delights with its wry humor and insider's knowledge but ultimately falls short of its promise. Few would seem as qualified to write an incisive novel about the life of a touring musician as Stace. He initially attracted a cult following as a British singer-songwriter billed as John Wesley Harding and has also written three novels (by George, 2007, etc.) that attracted a readership beyond his music fans. He now seems to be bringing those two identities together, recording most recently under his own name and turning his novelistic attention to his experiences in the music industry. Not that this is thinly disguised memoir, for it details a parallel history of rock through the career arc of the fictitious Wonderkids, formed by two brothers (think Kinks, Oasis, Everlys) who discover that they fill a previously unknown niche: "Rock Music for Kids." Or, with their hint of misbehavior, "Punk for kids. Punk for kids whose parents like punk. Music for kids with cool parents." The band experiences its own version of pivotal moments in rock—Beatlemania, Altamont, an extended feud with the censoring Parents Music Resource Center (who term their seemingly playful music "one of the greatest evils facing America today"), a drug bust, a Jim Morrison–style indecent exposure incident, and the inevitable personnel changes, disbanding and reunion. The narrator, for reasons initially inexplicable, is a Dickensian urchin named Sweet who is adopted by the band (specifically frontman Blake Lear) to escape the tedium of his British boyhood. Sweet eventually figures more critically in the plot, but he seems like a contrivance, the coincidence of his meeting the band straining credulity, and his perspective is an odd one for telling this story. Yet the bigger problem with the novel, as with the touring rock life it depicts, is the tedium of repetition, the day-to-day-ness in which not much happens beyond stereotypes (manager, record execs, etc.) behaving like stereotypes while the author has some fun with obscure references (fans of Spirit, for example, will delight in the command to the bus driver: "Randy? California!"). The novel makes the point that all rock is kid's music ("Aren't we all just big kids?") and makes it again and again.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781468308013
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • Publication date: 2/27/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 934,419
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Wesley Stace is the author of three widely acclaimed novels: Misfortune, selected by the Washington Post and Amazon as one of the best novels of the year; By George, one of the New York Public Library’s 2007 Books To Remember; and Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, one of the Wall Street Journal’s best fiction books of 2011. He has released fifteen albums under the name John Wesley Harding and has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Late Show with David Letterman, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He is the founder of the Cabinet of Wonders variety show, which has featured appearances by Rosanne Cash, Colson Whitehead, and Joshua Ferris, among many others, and which can be heard on NPR. He contributes frequently to the New York Times and lives in Philadelphia.
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