Jonny Valentine is an 11-year old Justin Bieber–esque pop star, crisscrossing the country in a caravan of buses and 18-wheelers on his second national tour. His momager (mother-turned-manager), Jane, keeps him on a strict schedule that includes tutoring on his tour bus, vocal and dance warm-ups, and advancing through the levels of his favorite video game The Secret Land of Xenon, but no eating dairy (bad for the vocal cords) or surfing the Internet (too many potential child predators). In his latest novel, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
, author and Whiting Writers’ Award winner Teddy Wayne paints a scathing portrayal of our culture’s celebrity obsession. Using the carefully crafted preteen voice of Jonny, Wayne examines the odd dichotomies that come with stardom—the tween heartthrob who’s never actually hung out with a girl; the “pop angel” who’s envied by thousands but whose only real friend is his bodyguard; the kid who knows more about brand recognition than sixth-grade social studies. Even though Jonny performs for screaming girls every night, the loneliness he feels backstage is palpable. The job of family breadwinner—to maintain his spot in the limelight and keep the paychecks streaming in to preserve their lifestyle—rests on his 11-year-old shoulders, something his mother is quick to remind him of. Wise beyond his years, Jonny knows that “a celeb is only a celeb if you remember them” who “disappears if no one is paying any attention.” Therefore, he has to do everything in his power to remain young, cute and adored by millions. Most of Wayne’s readers may not be preteen pop stars, but the book’s message is still relatable: The pressure to perform—to be the best, to top yesterday’s show—is a universal feeling. 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.
— Abbe Wright