Teddy Wayne’s The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (2013)

This is an excerpt from a longer consideration of this work, which can be viewed on BuriedInPrint.


Simon & Schuster, 2013When we meet Jonny, he can’t sleep; he turns on the light to play The Secret Land of Zenon.


In this first sentence of Teddy Wayne’s novel, Jonny might be any eleven-year-old boy. But even while listening to the background music for Zenon, Jonny recognizes the audience-loyalty retention strategy at work.


And readers immediately recognize that Jonny — who is wired after the show that night and itching for some of Jane’s zolpidems to help him sleep — is not a typical eleven-year-old boy.


In The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Jonny was born Jonathan Valentino, but he has become Jonny Valentine, a Beiber-esque figure, professional heart-throb and crooner who rose to fame via online vids and savvy management. (There has been a lot of chatter about this novel, and I’ve always wondered why everyone seems to compare this character to Justin Bieber, but the epigraph is Justin’s: “I want my world to be fun. No parents, no rules, no nothing. Like, no one can stop me. No one can stop me.”)


The novel portrays both the public and private worlds of this character, and because they are often in conflict, the story makes for compelling reading.


“I kept looking over at the kids behind the glass windows of the doors, which was unprofessional camera protocol, but I couldn’t help myself.”


There are many times at which Jonny is aware of the conflict between his personal desires and professional expectations (e.g. he wants more fries but must consider his waistline), and there are many times in which he can’t help himself (e.g. he looks over at those kids, eats more fries).


But this theme is most memorably embodied in the scenes in which Jonny realizes that his professional identity has fundamentally changed him.


When he realizes that there are aspects of Jonny Valentine that have completely engulfed Jonathan Valentino, Jonny’s situation touches readers in an unexpectedly poignant way.