14 May 2013

Review: Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis

Did you know that this is Children's Book Week? I'm celebrating by talking about young adult and middle grade books I've read this month. Yesterday, I reviewed two selections for a mother-daughter book club; today's novel is nod to the late twentieth century and is told from a boy's perspective.

In 1977, Vinnie Gold wonders what more could go wrong in his life: His parents divorced, his mom remarried, he was mugged, his dog died, he got a bad case of acne, and now he has to move from the city to Long Island. He grumbles about learning to adjust to a new house, new school, and new friends, but--whoa!--check out the cute girl who lives next door.

Despite all the other things going on in his life, Vinnie's main problem is that he's sure he isn't cool enough for Patsy, who hangs out with the football star. When Vinnie accidentally gets the number for her private phone line, he gets up his nerve to call her, but when Patsy answers, he can't speak. Later, he calls back to apologize for scaring her, disguising his voice.

And thus begins Vinnie's dual life. By day, he is the nerdy neighbor boy Vinnie, but by night he is the confident, witty Italian teen (whom Vinnie thinks of as Vincenzo). But, of course, Patsy doesn't know the identity of her midnight caller. Forced finally to agree to a face-to-face meeting at the school dance, Vinnie/Vincenzo comes up with a desperate scheme, hoping that Patsy will learn to accept him as he really is.

Audrey Couloumbis's Not Exactly a Love Story takes a realistic and sometimes funny look young teen troubles during a time when kids could still have secrets and life's dramas were not quite so public and rarely escalated. Because the young adult novel is told from Vinnie's perspective, it should have appeal to both boys and girls.

I found Vinnie to be a likable guy who tries hard to adjust to his changing family situation. This is not the story of an evil stepfather or arguing parents. And, in fact, Vinnie still has a good relationship with his father and comes to accept his mom's new husband. That doesn't mean he's wildly happy or is a sap, but he's a good kid who makes the best of things he can't change.

At the core of the novel is Vinnie's efforts to gain self-confidence and discover his true self while trying to win the heart of pretty and popular Patsy. In his everyday personality, he's a good student, he helps out at home, and enjoys caring for tropical fish. With his stepfather's encouragement, he rather awkwardly decides to take up a sport and become a bit more well-rounded. By night on the phone, though, Vincenzo is (so he thinks) suave and assertive, which sometimes works but also backfires. All this adds up to both fun times and a few cringe-worthy moments.

Vinnie's story is a universal tale of the trials and tribulations--and joys--of the awkward teen years, set in a time when high schoolers had more more freedom and privacy than they have today. In Not Exactly a Love Story, Audrey Couloumbis doesn't idealize the 1970s, but you can't help but wonder what today's kids are missing thanks to their full schedules, instant communication, and constant supervision. Lots for kids and their parents to ponder.

I listened to the audiobook edition (Listening Library; 6 hr, 13 min), read by Maxwell Glick. Glick did a great job channeling his teenage self. His reading is expressive and engaging and increased my connection to the novel and sympathy for Vinnie.

Buy Not Exactly a Love Story at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Random House / Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780375867835
Rating: B

Source: Review - audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


rhapsodyinbooks 5/14/13, 8:10 AM  

I love YA Cyrano take offs! Such a great plot arc!

Michele 5/14/13, 11:20 AM  

I do indeed wonder exactly that....I worry that we cram our children's schedules so full that they never have time to discover themselves while growing up. Then one day, bam, they are out there alone and have no idea of who they are and what they want from life.

I love YA like this....good for kids, thought provoking for parents!

Julie P. 5/14/13, 4:44 PM  

I bet I'd love this one. I even think I have it around here somewhere.

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