Sometime after becoming a YouTube megastar and crashing into the cult of personality that has metastasized in contemporary society, Teddy Wayne's 11-year-old bubblegum idol Jonny Valentine is hanging out in his dressing room getting a blow job from a girl who doesn't even like his music. "Are you even old enough to get a hard-on?" she asks him. He answers that he's already gotten so many that day, he can't possibly come again.
Jonny Valentine (né Valentino) lives the strangest kind of charmed life. His angel voice has earned him a giant Hollywood mansion and multi-million-dollar record deal; he has a bodyguard he considers his best friend and a single-minded manager-mother, Jane, whom he calls by her first name. As we travel with Jonny and his entourage on his latest national tour, Wayne brilliantly narrates from the perspective of Jonny's tweenage prison. The boy is hilarious, hypersensitive, grossly manipulative, and almost unforgivably egotistical — if it weren't for the fact that most of the terrible things he says and thinks are delivered through a prism of childish celebrity folly.
Wayne offers unflinching glimpses into who Jonny really is: a depressed kid endlessly searching for his absent father. Jonny spends his time attempting to win affection from the adults he employs while simultaneously never letting them forget that without him, and his star power, they would be the worst thing of all: normal. You don't feel sorry for him so much as you feel the need to understand how he got to be that way, and to know if he will ever find a way out of it. 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.
TEDDY WAYNE + CHRIS MONKS :: Harvard Book Store, 1256 Mass Ave, Cambridge :: February 22 :: 7 pm :: 617.661.1515 or harvard.com
THE LOVE SONG OF JONNY VALENTINE:: By Teddy Wayne :: Free Press :: 304 pages :: $24.99
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