Henry Goldblatt
February 01, 2013 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

Current Status
In Season
Teddy Wayne
Free Press

We gave it a B+

The Justin Bieber oeuvre is already overstuffed with such literary classics as Justin Bieber: My World, Justin Bieber: His World, Justin Bieber: Up Close and Personal — and, though the Pulitzer committee snubbed it, Nowhere but Up: The Story of Justin Bieber’s Mom. However, there’s one more account of the pop star’s life that needed to be written. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is the best book you’ll ever read about Justin Bieber. Just one hitch: It’s a novel, and it’s not actually about Justin Bieber.

Discovered on YouTube, Jonny Valentine is an 11-year-old pop sensation with chart-topping hits like ”Guys vs. Girls” and ”RSVP (To My Heart).” His universe consists of his bodyguard, his tutor, his voice/dance coach, and his momager, Jane. Mom’s a coked-up Medea (ancient Greek, not the Tyler Perry version) who calls her son ”baby,” chastises him for his ”chub,” asks him to hover above a stadium every night in a flimsy swing, and plans for the End of Days when he has to start taking Accutane.

Valentine, which chronicles Jonny’s make-it-or-break-it tour — his second album is underperforming — is a buoyant, smart, searing portrait of our culture’s obsession with young pop stars. The book posits that his mom and the entertainment industry have enslaved Jonny — but that his fans and the media are complicit too. It’s also eerily prescient. After a night out drinking, Jonny drops in at a children’s hospital to rehab his image; in early January, after photos surfaced of Bieber allegedly smoking a joint, he visited a similar facility.

Wayne doesn’t fully master his preteen protagonist. Jonny knows the meaning of ”hierarchy,” but on the same page can’t grasp the word ”rhetorical.” And it wouldn’t have hurt the story to age him a couple of years. Quibbles aside, Valentine illuminates the inner life of a ”Baby” — excuse us, baby — superstar more than any interview ever will. B+

Memorable Line

”…the boos got louder until it seemed like the whole audience was yelling, and even though it was what I’d wanted, once I actually heard it, it was the worst feeling in the world.”

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