Author: Audrey Couloumbis
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Source: For review on YA Books Central
Description from Goodreads:
Fifteen-year old Vinnie isn't having a good year. He's recovering from the worst case of galloping acne his dermatologist's ever seen. His girl moved to California without even saying good-bye. And the ink on his parents divorce papers is barely dry, when his mom announces that they're moving from Queens to Long Island.
The silver lining in all this is that they move next door to Patsy—everyone's dream girl. Not that she'd ever notice him. But when Vinnie calls Patsy one night, it leads to a chain of anonymous midnight conversations. Under the cover of darkness, Vinnie becomes Vincenzo, Patsy's mystery caller, and the two share a side of themselves they would never reveal in daylight and develop a surprisingly real connection (despite the lies it's built on). As Vinnie gets to know Patsy in real life though, it becomes clear both identities can't survive and he'll have to find a way to hangup the phone and step into the daylight. Fraught with complications and crackling with witty dialogue, and all the angst and electricity that comes with always being just a phone wire away from the one you want, acclaimed author Audrey Couloumbis's YA debut is a smooth-talking Cyrano meets Saturday Night Fever and tells a quirky, flirty, and smart story that will appeal to fans of Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Frank Portman's King Dork, Natalie Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot, and John Green's An Abundance of Katherines. It's not exactly a love story . . . but it's pretty close.
First Sentence: "On my fifteenth birthday, January 16, 1977, I slogged through a New York City rainstorm of hurricane proportions to buy the Sunday paper."
When we meet Vinnie, his girl, the girl he's been crushing on, has moved away. His parents then announce their divorce. Vinnie doesn't take this particularly well. His previously high grades slip. He even fails gym, a feat he didn't think was actually possible. Of course, this means his gym teacher, Mr. B, has to meet with his mother about the situation. Then Mr. B and his mom start dating, marry, and move.
Vinnie immediately develops a crush on the gorgeous girl next door, whose room he can see through his window. Yes, he does peek. That's Vinnie. He imagines that she will go for him, even if he isn't a jock type. For the first day of his new school, he dresses to showcase his sweet style by wearing his rad leather pants. Mind you that this was in summer. Oh, Vinnie and his leather pants. This was one of those factors that sold the time period, and reminded me about how crazy the characters all must have looked (like photos of my parents in college). Sadly, though, Patsy, the neighbor, does not take any notice of him, focusing her attentions on the new football star, who Vinnie nicknames Biff.
Here's where things take a turn for the different: Biff obtains Patsy's number, but accidentally drops it in the locker room. Vinnie finds the number and takes it. He decides to call her at midnight, but can't bring himself to say anything. He calls back again, and fails again, now labeled a creepy breather. On the third call, she answers with acid in her voice, and he says something rude, because he feels like she's being to mean to a shy guy. The next night he calls at midnight again to apologize for what he said the previous night. Thus, a strange friendship is born.
Every night at midnight, Vinnie calls Patsy, and every night she answers, even though he is, for all intents and purposes an obscene caller. While I certainly wouldn't recommend this to anyone, it does bring something to Patsy's life and to Vinnie's that was missing before. With the anonymity they feel in the phone calls, they feel free to open up parts of themselves they generally hide from the world. The phone calls involve some humorous back-and-forth, like Patsy attempting to guess his name, which he tells her is Italian.
To add to the hilarity, Patsy begins to express some small amount in Vinnie Gold, his real life self, as well as Vincenzo, his obscene caller self. Vincenzo and Vinnie find themselves jealous of one another, and, for a while there, Vinnie looks like he's about to suffer a mental break. Though set in 1977, Not Exactly a Love Story has a lot of application in a modern teen's life, though rather than phone calls, such an experience would happen on the internet. It's a story about the schism between how you present yourself and how you are, and finding a way to see yourself clearly.
Just as important, Couloumbis tackles the subject of divorce. Vinnie, through the course of the novel, works through his emotions about the separation of his parents. He comes to realize, in a very realistic plot arc, that just because he loves both his parents that they don't necessarily make each other happy anymore. I love that he has not just two present parents, but three, as Mr. B totally steps up. Of course, all of the parents make mistakes, but they're just so obviously a loving family.
The only real drawback for me was that I had trouble with some of Patsy's actions, most notably in beginning the phone call relationship with someone she knows only as an obscene caller. Sure, I get why she continues the conversations, but why begin them? Why answer your phone after that first night? Why keep answering? Her relationship with Biff is also puzzling and upsetting. She just seems a bit too inclined to go along with other people's expectations, and I would have liked to understand her motivations better.
Audrey Couloumbis' Not Exactly a Love Story is a quirky book, full of heart and (not so) obscene phone calls. This a great read for those who enjoy a focus on family dynamics and a bit of weirdness. Or, perhaps, for adults nostalgic for the days when kids wore leather pants to school.
Favorite Quote: "'I'm glad your mother's happier,' Dad said. 'Frankly, I think I'm happier. I want what's best for all of us, and it may turn out, someday, that right now we're in the painful process of getting just that.'"