Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis (ARC)

Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis. December 11, 2012. Random House. 288 pages. ISBN: 9780375867835

Vinnie is fifteen, and his life has undergone some recent major changes. First, he and his mom move to a new town, leaving behind the girl Vinnie has loved from afar for years. Next, his mom falls in love with his new gym teacher, and decides to marry him. Then, Vinnie starts to get interested in a girl in his neighborhood named Patsy, and he makes an obscene phone call to her house to try to get her attention. Patsy is more intrigued than horrified by the call, and soon Vinnie is calling Patsy every night at midnight and the two teens are telling each other things they’d never tell anyone else. There is just one problem with their late-night friendship. Vinnie, who is also getting to know Patsy during the day, has never revealed his identity as the midnight caller, and he’s afraid if he ever does, Patsy will no longer care for him.

Not Exactly a Love Story is set in 1977, which is what makes possible the anonymous phone calls at the heart of the story. In 2012, with cell phones and caller ID, it’s a lot harder for teens like Vinnie to make untraced phone calls to the girls of their dreams, so I imagine that this is why the author chose to set the story in the past. I hesitate to truly call it historical fiction, as it reads similarly to a lot of contemporary YA books, but some references to pop culture and clothing, along with the phone calls, give it a 70s vibe, even if the time period is not of major importance.

Vinnie is a likeable character from the very first page. This is especially important because he’s so isolated and in his own head for much of the story. Being new in school has made finding friends difficult, so there’s not the usual best friend character for him to bounce ideas off of. His mom and the gym teacher play their supporting roles well, but for the most part, the reader is in Vinnie’s head as he sorts out his phone call persona from his true self. Many sections of the story are simply debates Vinnie has with himself over what to say or do next. Thankfully, these debates are interesting and raise a lot of questions, not just about communication, but about identity and honesty. Vinnie also makes observations about Patsy, the boys she dates, and her group of friends, which are among the best parts of the book. I love the way he calls Patsy’s boyfriend Biff, and refers to one of her best friends as Brown Bunny based on how she looks.

Some story threads seemed to me to be left unresolved. Patsy reconnects with a girl named Sissy early in the book in a scene that felt significant in some way, and I kept waiting for Sissy to reappear again later on in some final twist. This did not happen, and I was left wondering why Sissy was in the story at all. I felt the same way about the girl Vinnie leaves behind at the start of the book. Why bother starting the story there, when Patsy is the girl we’re meant to care about? It’s fine to have a story that doesn’t package everything up neatly, but in this case, I felt these story lines had been forgotten rather than intentionally left ambiguous.

Not Exactly a Love Story will appeal to girls, of course, because of the romance angle, but there’s also a lot for teen boys to relate to. Vinnie is similar to other great male narrators from this year: Guy Langman (Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator), Sanskrit Zuckerman (Since You Left Me), and Felton Reinstein (Nothing Special). Fifteen year old boys from any time period can relate to Vinnie’s desire to get the girl of his dreams, and they will sympathize better than anyone with the mistakes he makes on the road to getting what he wants.

Not Exactly a Love Story was published yesterday, December 11, 2012.

I received a digital ARC of Not Exactly a Love Story from Random House via NetGalley.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat


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