Love Song | Stand-Alone | ISBN 9781910002728 | Chicken House Books, 2016 | 4.5 out of 5 Points
“A million girls would kill for the chance to meet The Point, but Nina’s not one of them. She’s the new assistant to the lead singer’s diva fiancée, and she knows it’s going to suck. She quickly learns that being with the hottest band on the planet isn’t as easy as it looks: behind the scenes, the boys are on the verge of splitting up. Tasked with keeping an eye on four gorgeous but spoiled rock stars, Nina’s determined to stick it out – and not fall for any of them …”
One thing’s for sure: I’m going to add Sophia Bennett’s name to my list of favourite contemporary authors. I bought “Love Song” on a whim because I had a long train journey ahead of me and wanted something light and funny to pass the time. But despite it’s quirky cover and blurb, “Love Song” isn’t really the kind of book I was expecting. It’s a light read, but it’s not necessarily a funny book even though there are some adorable moments. It’s close to being perfect Young Adult fiction though. I picked “Love Song” from the hundreds of books our favourite big online retailer recommended to me because it’s about music, it’s about stardom and Rock ’n’ Roll. Everyone who knows me knows that I can’t resist stories like this and “Love Song” did not disappoint.
A GIRL WITH A PAST AND FOUR BOYS WITH A MISSION
In a way “Love Song” reminded me of one of my favourite films, “Almost Famous”, not because they are necessarily very similar in plot but rather because it had the same vibe. “Love Song” is about Rock music and friendship and about what it really takes to be a star. In that way “Love Song” isn’t really original of course.
The plot revolves around The Point, the hottest teenage rock band around, but despite their success they’re silently breaking apart whilst putting on a show for their unsuspecting fans. This isn’t new. Basically “Almost Famous” is about the same struggle between friendship and fame and I’m sure there are other stories like this. But what makes “Love Song” stand out is how emotional and “real” it is. The plot isn’t always realistic, it’s not real in that way. I didn’t really buy why Nina of all people gets offered the job as Sigrid’s PA for instance. But there’s a lot of substance here anyway, a lot of emotion that feels authentic and makes you invested in these people’s lives, no matter how unlikely the things happening to them seem.
Nina Baxter, the first person narrator, is a normal seventeen year old girl. And by normal I don’t mean YA fiction normal, I mean real life normal. She has a past. She’s been through a horrible break-up, she’s been cheated on, she has a tattoo she regrets, she had to face tragedy at a young age and now she’s getting by, revising for her A-Levels. She doesn’t really seem like a character in a book, she seems like a real girl and I appreciate that so much. Nina gets to have backstory. She gets to make mistakes and wrong decisions and that makes her feel real, like someone you might meet at school or university. She isn’t your usual self-insert YA heroine is what I’m saying. This isn’t that kind of book. She isn’t you but she could be someone you know.
Nina’s life changes drastically when she gets offered a job as Personal Assistant to Sigrid Santorini, fiancée of The Point’s lead singer Jamie. What I loved about Nina was how down to earth she was. She only reluctantly accepted the offer and she doesn’t go on tour with Sigrid and the band because she’s crazy about the boys, but because it’s an opportunity for her to get away from home for a while. She’s an interesting main character, Nina, and very different from the kind of protagonist you would except from a book like this. She’s not crazy about the band, she’s not crazy about music, she doesn’t take the job because she wants to be a musician herself. She has other goals and passions and I liked that. It made her a great narrator who didn’t always understand the appeal of rockstar life but who ended up a part of it anyway.
A SNAPSHOT OF MODERN DAY POP CULTURE
Sophia Bennett seems to understand what moves young people about boy bands and music, what it’s really about for them. She manages to create a pretty authentic portrait of modern day pop culture when most books don’t. The Point are your typical teenage rock band, One Direction and 5SoS rolled into one. Sigrid got her start with Disney and is now a film star with her own reality show. I liked that Bennett acknowledged the influence of Disney, reality shows and teenage rock bands on modern day pop culture. I’ve read a lot of books about teenagers being swallowed up by the fame machine and they usually feel out of touch with actual pop culture. “Love Song” doesn’t. Sophia Bennett gets what its about.
The book might not age well though. The references to Kanye West, Disney and the phenomena of teenage rock bands might be lost on future generations just like a book about 90s boybands wouldn’t necessarily connect with a present day teenager. Pop culture changes fast and what’s indie rock bands now might be something else altogether in five years time. But “Love Story” is basically a snapshot of 2010s teenage culture, not timeless, but a portrait of what it means to be a teenager, to like music and bands in 2016 and that’s kind of cool.
Another thing I loved was that Bennett treats “fan girls” with respect. That’s rare. She doesn’t look down on them, she doesn’t ridicule them, she takes them and their passion for music and boys seriously and I loved that so much. Teenage girls, especially those into boy bands, are usually treated like their opinions on music and bands are worthless, not as real as those of male fans, even though its them that pay for most of the merchandise and concert tickets. There was an incident some time ago when a rock band lamented only having screaming teenage girl fans because they wanted to appeal to an audience that mattered more, strictly speaking adult men. That happens all the time. People don’t appreciate their female teenage fans and that’s a shame.
But Bennett understands what it’s about for these girls and she doesn’t mock them, she validates their enthusiasm. The girls aren’t ridiculed for what they like and how they express it, they aren’t treated as though they only like The Point because the boys are hot, their love for the music and their crushes on the band members are respected and encouraged. The boys realise they’re famous because of these girls and they value them, they’re thankful for them as they should be. This aspect made me smile quite a lot, it’s such a healthy attitute to the fan girl phenomena and its influence on pop culture that I wish some real life bands would adopt.
LET-DOWN LOVE STORIES AND OTHER NUISANCES
The only thing I didn’t like so much was the love story. I’m not going to say too much because it happens fairly late in the book and I don’t wanna give anything away but it didn’t feel very well thought out. In fact I thought Nina had way more chemistry with a different character than with the one she ended up with but that’s just me. I think “Love Song”, despite the title, would have been better off without any kind of romance at all. The romance was rushed, kind of stuffed into the last third of the book, and I wasn’t really invested in it. The book is an emotional roller coaster ride but the love story of all things lacked feeling. In fact it read to me like an afterthought, something added on short notice because YA books need romance.
I don’t mind too much though. This book is awesome on so many other levels. The strained friendship between Jamie and guitarist Angus, the behind the scenes look at what it takes to be a rockstar, Nina’s heartbreak and how it affected her decisions, Nina’s relationship with her younger sister Ariel, Sigrid being at the same time your usual pretty but empty headed antagonist but still having enough substance to feel like she could be real, that was all awesome. And last but not least there’s Nina’s character growth. Awesome, awesome, awesome.
“Love Song” is an easy read, cute and fluffy at times, but with enough substance and emotion to get you invested. It’s not always realistic but it’s real in the way it deals with heartbreak, friendship and fame. The characters are great, especially Nina, and I really liked the way Bennett doesn’t look down on teen culture but paints an accurate portrait of what it’s about without judgement. If you want an easy read about friendship and music with a bit of substance to it, “Love Song” is your book. If you’re into stories about bands and music and rock’n’roll, you’ll love it. I know I do.
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