Teddy Wayne, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
Judge: Kilian Metcalf
When Mary and I started talking about the Buff Orpington Tournament, one of the first challenges we faced was the choice of books. Mary posted a list of the most-reviewed books of 2012. I was reading Heft at the time and thought it would be a good candidate. Looking at her list, I was drawn to the description of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. The recent activities of the Justins, Bieber and Timberlake, were in my consciousness. I wondered what it would be like if the Justins were real people instead of wooden Pinocchio-clone sock puppets. I already knew the pain and isolation of a life as a massively obese person, so Heft is familiar territory to me, although I am nowhere near as impaired as the main character.
I was suprised to find that both books have very similar storylines. While Heft starts out with the focus on the isolated, immured Arthur, it soon shifts to the story of the young son of an impoverished alcoholic mother. The two stories are told in parallel arcs, meeting only at the end.
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a cohesive whole, an insider's look at the life of a moderately gifted young boy who happens to catch the wave of preteenage adulation. In his own way, Jonny is as isolated and lonely as Arthur.
I expected that I would choose Heft. It seemed so much more serious and literary. Instead I found that the double story meant half as much pleasure rather than double.
I reluctantly came to admire the craft and sheer writing ability of Teddy Wayne. The essential dilemma of what to do with the temptation to exploit a child's talent, the price the child and the parent pay for financial security, and the challenges of growing up in the artificial world of show business creates a dramatic tension this is deftly navigated by the author.
My choice: Love Song of Jonny Valentine.