Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Wayne)

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
Teddy Wayne, 2013
Simon & Schuster
285 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781476705859

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. (From the publisher.)

Watch the (very funny) video.

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1979-80
Raised—New York City, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard University; M.A.,
   Washington University in St. Louis;
Awards—Whiting Writers' Award
Currently—lives in New York City

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. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
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.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

Onto [Jonny Valentine's] 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.
Jess Walters - New York Times Book Review

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 News Day

(Starred review.) A coming-of-age tale with a modern context, this sharply written novel...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.
Publishers Weekly

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

A provocative and bittersweet illumination of celebrity from the perspective of an 11-year-old pop sensation.... Wayne once again sees American culture through the eyes of an exceptional outsider—in this case, a pre-pubescent pop star.... Rather than turning Jonny into a caricature or a figure of scorn...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...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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. What do you think makes the first-person narration in the novel ring so true as an eleven-year-old’s voice? When does Jonny display knowledge beyond his years and when does he reveal his inexperience and naïveté?

2. How does Jonny regard his pre-music-career life in St. Louis? Is he nostalgic, or conflicted? Does this change after his tour stop in St. Louis?

3. Why does Jane offer Jonny the choice between continuing to tour and going to school? Do you think he’s equipped to choose well? How do you feel about Jonny’s decision, in the end?

4. How do marketing and promotional concerns circumscribe Jonny’s life? How do you think his life would have been different if Jane had not chosen to be his manager? Do you think he would have more freedom to be a kid, or not?

5. Though they are employees, Walter and Nadine both care for Jonny and he cares for them. Why are these relationships so important to him? Why do you think Jonny has an easier time relating to adults than to his peers?

6. What attracts Jonny to the Latchkeys, especially to the lead singer, Zack? In your opinion, were they using him, as Jonny comes to suspect, or was Zack’s big-brotherly interest in him genuine?

7. Jane tells Jonny, “The top person is never simply the most talented, or the smartest, or the best-looking. They sacrifice anything in their lives that might hold them back.” (p 37) Do you agree? After his appearance with Tyler Beats, how does Jonny’s perception of his own talent and work ethic change? Do you think this is a healthy change, or not? Would Jonny have been able to see himself this way at the beginning of the book?

8. How would you characterize Jonny’s feelings about his fans and celebrity? At one point he says, “A celeb is only a celeb if you remember them. It’s like we disappear if no one is paying attention.” (p 96) Do you think he’d prefer to disappear? Or to be loved unconditionally by his fans? If you could choose, would you want to have Jonny’s level of fame?

9. Towards the end of his tour, before his Detroit concert, Jonny thinks: “So screw them. If this is what they were giving me, I wasn’t just going to do a bad job. I was going to make it my worst show ever.” (p 236) What is making him feel this way? Does he deserve to be so angry? Why is he unable to follow through on his intention to deliver a poor show?

10. How does the author use the video game Zenon as a metaphor throughout the book? Does Jonny gain something valuable from the game or does the fictional world of Zenon obstruct his understanding of the real world?

11. Over the course of the book we learn that Jane has concealed from Jonny information both personal and music-related. In your opinion, are her decisions motivated more by protecting Jonny or herself, or by keeping him career-focused? Is she really the bad mother the press claims she is?

12. By the time Jonny finally gets a chance to meet his father, he has built up a number of expectations throughout the course of their correspondence. Discuss how this plays out, and what the result of this meeting means for both Jonny and the novel.

13. Throughout the book, Nadine and Jonny are studying slavery in their history lessons; Jonny’s final essay question is “What does it mean to be the property of another person and what does it mean to be free?” (p 223) Talk about how this theme ties into the book’s larger message. When Jonny claims at the end that he knows how to answer the essay question, do you think he’s right? What does his answer tell you about the journey he’s taken in the course of the book?

14. After reading this novel did your feelings about celebrity culture or the music industry change? Do you think one can have both celebrity and normalcy, or are they mutually exclusive?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2018