Not Exactly a Love Story

Common Sense Media says

An obscene call sparks an offbeat, heartfelt teen romance.

Age(i)

2
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5
6
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8
9
10
11
12
13
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value
Not applicable
Positive messages
Vinnie tries to get close to Patsy by playing a character, but he soon realizes that he'll only get the girl by being honest. And he has to sort out who he is first. The story underscores the need to hold on to your true self amid the pressure of high school, but getting there involves some curious detours involving some risky decision-making by both Patsy and Vinnie.
 
Positive role models

Vinnie has genuine empathy for others, and shows little tolerance for nasty behavior. He confronts a boy bragging about a date with Patsy, and takes a beating for it. After a tumultuous period at school, he works overtime to improve his grades and even takes up running. Patsy can seem self-absorbed and preoccupied with her status, but she shows flashes of humanity in her calls with Vinnie and occasional emotional bravery, like seeking out a onetime friend to apologize for treating her poorly. Vinnie's mother lacks maturity and is dealing with her own identity crisis. The other adults in his life are doing their best to get by in awkward circumstances. 

Violence

Vinnie is deeply shaken when he's mugged at knifepoint. He gets in two fights with the book's bully, taking a beating the first time and landing a punch the second. The bully, nicknamed Biff, is sexually and physically aggressive toward Patsy.

Sex

Vinnie first sees Patsy when he spies her undressing to her bra in her bedroom. Patsy is frightened by sexually aggressive behavior by Biff, who brags to classmates about touching her breast. Vinnie is embarrassed by an erection in public while wearing leather pants. There's occasional mild kissing, and references to Patsy's mother having an affair. In their phone conversations, Vinnie identifies himself as an obscene caller, Patsy often calls him a pervert, and there are references to talking dirty and impotence.

Language

Vinnie blurts out "wanna f--k?" in his first phone call to Patsy, surprising himself. His gym teacher's Italian name lends itself to the nickname "Mr. Goodf--k," a teen talks about touching a girl's "boob," and characters occasionally use coarse language including "jerk" and "s--t."

 
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Vinnie's gym teacher is said to have a habit of chewing cigars and Biff reportedly smokes because he thinks it's cool. 

 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Audrey Couloumbis' Not Exactly a Love Story contains some sexual innuendo and charged repartee between a teen boy and girl. The novel explores authenticity in relationships, self-identity, and how we present ourselves to others, but these themes are propelled by Vinnie's nightly anonymous calls to Patsy, who seems sometimes put off and sometimes intrigued by what some readers might regard as stalker behavior. There's little to be concerned about, but the subtext of the relationship might give some parents pause. Parents might want to use this as a springboard to talk about privacy and conduct in a high-tech world.
 

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What's the story?

Life gets bumpy for Vinnie just after he turns 15, in 1977. The girl he likes moves away, his parents split up, he suffers an awful acne outbreak, he gets mugged, and his mom starts dating his gym teacher, who's flunking him. He and his mom move from Queens to Long Island, and things start to look up: The girl next door is adorable, and Vinnie wants to get to know her. He comes by her private number, musters the courage to call her late one night, and blurts out an obscenity. The next night he calls to apologize, and then he keeps calling at midnight, anonymously, imagining himself transformed into the mysterious Vincenzo. They reveal more of themselves during these midnight calls even as Vinnie starts to get to know Patsy in real life. But she's smitten with her midnight caller, leaving Vinnie searching for a way to slip out of his web of lies and fully realize the genuine relationship they've nurtured.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 
Author Audrey Couloumbis explores themes of honesty, trust, and authenticity in NOT EXACTLY A LOVE STORY by setting up her protagonists in a tricky game based on deceit. Cloaked in darkness and anonymity, Vinnie is able to tease out the authentic side of a girl who's practiced at playing a role. It's an awkward role for him, and throughout he's a winning character. 
 
By setting the story in the 1970s, Couloumbis neatly sidesteps the minefield posed by modern communication, which is a shame. Raised in an age of texting and Facebook, her readers probably won't fully grasp the stakes and allure of the midnight phone calls the way their parents might. And for all the soul-searching and longing for connection, some of the seamier notes -- such as Patsy's clear pleasure in receiving "obscene calls" -- are disconcerting (though realistic). 
 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how differently this story would play out today, with texting, cell phones, social networking, and email. Would Vinnie be able to remain anonymous for long? Do you think the flirtatious tone of the phone conversations would be different is the two were texting each other?

  • When Patsy agrees to meet her caller in an isolated place during the dance, do you think she's taking risks, being romantic, or a little bit of both?

  • In the '70s, Biff could only spread rumors about Patsy by talking with classmates, and telephone land lines were the only way Patsy and Vinnie could talk privately. Parents might want to talk about texting, cell phones, and safety. See our articles on giving your child a cell phone, preserving privacy, and dealing with digital harassment for advice.

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Book details

Author:Audrey Couloumbis
Genre:Romance
Topics:Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication date:December 11, 2012
Number of pages:288
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

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