Review: Not Exactly a Love Story

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Not Exactly a Love StoryNot Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis
Published by Random House BFYR on December 11, 2012
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-stars

It's 1977.

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-talkingCyrano 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.”

Review:
Despite not ever having heard anything about Couloumbis or Not Exactly a Love Story, I was intrigued. I mean, how many YA books do you hear about set in the 1970s? That’s just not a popular era for historical fiction yet. At first, I wasn’t too sure whether this was going to be something I would enjoy. Vinnie’s narrative voice grated a bit at first and the plot does some…interesting…things, but in the end, Couloumbis won me over to her odd, unique, surprisingly sweet story.

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.'”

17 responses to “Review: Not Exactly a Love Story”

  1. Bookworm1858 says:

    I was intrigued by the 1970s setting as well-I’ve never read historical fiction set during then. I also got mad at Vinnie for continuing to call-it was a very jerky move and I thought he was quite awful to Patsy at some points.

    • Christina says:

      True. But, then again, I didn’t mind it so much, because I could see into his head. He immediately regretted the mean things he said. Basically, he was just super awkward at flirting. I guess I feel sympathetic to that.

  2. This sounds weird LOL As I was reading your review I swear my eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger. I can totally see why you would wonder why she would continue to answer the phone and go along with the conversations but at least it worked for the story I guess. It’s like in horror movies when everyone runs UPSTAIRS! People in books and movies are just dumb sometimes LOL now I’m rambling. Umm.. He didn’t really pick a very sneaky name for his phone personality hey?

    • Christina says:

      It IS weird, but I liked it. My review ended up so long, because I had to explain all the things. Going into this blind, my eyes totally got large at several points.

      Yeah, it’s not sneaky at all. I don’t know why Patsy didn’t put that together. But he did regret the name choice pretty much immediately. Seemed believably dumb.

    • Christina says:

      Well, actually, he just said he was Italian, and thought of himself as Vincenzo. She didn’t know what his name was.

  3. fakesteph says:

    This sounds so good. I’m not a huge fan of historical and have no interest in this time period, but still… this sounds so good! I’m glad you liked it.

  4. Tammy Sparks says:

    I love stories set in the 70s (since I lived through that decade!) so I just might put this on my TBR pile. The characters sound pretty good and I love humor as long as it’s believable. Great review!

  5. Totally like how a different time period what chosen for this!! Glad you liked the story in the end, even though it was different:)

  6. I haven’t seen anything about this one either, but it sounds interesting.
    Happy reading,
    Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  7. erin says:

    this sounds fantastic! Thanks for the great review!

  8. Leela says:

    Ooo this story sounds terrific and I’ve added to my TBR pile right away. I’m sorry you don’t love it, but you enjoyed it 🙂

    Thanks for sharing it. I can’t wait to read it ^^

  9. Erika says:

    This looks interesting, although I’m not sure it is for me. I do like the interesting 1970’s setting and it seems like it is pretty humorous too. Thanks for your thoughts!

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