Chronicling the ups-and-downs of a cross-country arena tour (ending on Valentine's Day at Madison Square Garden), this novel puts Jonny's too-early collision with drugs, sex, hipsters, rejection, and loneliness on full display. Clearly, these are all things a bit above his age-grade. And he's confused. He wants to be a humble, normal kid — but that's impossible, thanks to his fame and his ridiculous fake-boobed mother/manager Jane, a stereotypical over-controlling parent/manager.
Jonny's only real friends are his bodyguard Walter, his tutor Nadine, and Zach, the mid-20s lead singer of the opening band on Jonny's tour, and the subject of a newly developed hero-worship. But these aren't his real friends, because they're paid to be near him — and they can all be replaced on a whim, as his mom/manager does throughout the tour. And that's sad — both for Jonny and for the reader.
The best/funniest parts of this novel are the frequent commentaries on and examples of how celebrity is often staged and disingenuous. For instance, Jonny goes on a "date" with another pop star/actress for publicity, and of course, is carefully coached on how to answer interview questions. But we all willfully ignore how stupid Hollywood entertainment executives think we are. And we're obsessed with these manufactured celebrities anyway.
For his own part, Jonny just wants something real. He invites the fake-date girl to hang out with him when they're back in LA, but she just laughs at him because she doesn't like to mix "business" with her personal life. And he spends much of the tour exchanging secret emails (he has to sneak
Internet access, though, as his manager/mom won't let him go online)
with his estranged father. Will they have a touching reunion at the end?
I hope you get the sense by now that this is far from a bubblegum YA novel. It's actually really smart. Some of the most interesting parts of the novel are when Jonny is "discovering" and telling us some truth that seems to him the most profound thing in the world. For instance, shooting a piece for a TV morning show at his old grade school, all the kids in the hallway are supposed to act natural and walk right by him in the hallway, but they can't help but glance at the camera. Jonny opines: "Everyone wants to be famous more than they want to see someone famous." Well, duh.
But this story is a lot of fun, too. Wayne certainly took a big risk with this novel, because it works or doesn't work for you depending on whether you like Jonny's voice. Young narrators can cause problems, but not here. I really liked Jonny's voice. And I think you will, too. Highly recommended!