It’s 1977 and 15-year-old Vinny Gold, the main character in Audrey Couloumbis’ YA novel “Not Exactly a Love Story,” is faced with a laundry list of teenage problems: Acne. Divorce. An F in gym. When his mother remarries and decides to move to Long Island, Vinnie sees this as a chance to make a fresh start.
He joins the track team. Stands up to a degrading student. He rocks a pair of leather pants.
And when he comes across the phone number for the most popular girl in school, he decides to call. And pretend to be someone else.
Vinnie becomes Vincenzo, a smooth-talking, confident, if sometimes brash young man who insists on keeping his true identity a secret. Despite his bravado, Patsy, the unfortunately-named girl of his dreams, begins to see his true personality come through: “Oh, don’t try and sound so tough …. You’re much nicer than you want me to think.”
At 15, it’s hard to let your guard down and just be yourself. Couloumbis understands this perfectly. As the phone calls continue, Patsy comes to appreciate her relationship with the mystery caller:
“I pick up because we’re not faking it with each other,” she said. “I don’t have to be perfect for you. If I’m screwed up it’s OK, because we both are. I don’t have that with anyone else.”
While Couloumbis deftly explores Vinnie and Patsy’s struggles with identity, the beginning of the novel is slow. Readers may also question why the book is set in 1977, as aside from the landline phones and music references, the story could easily take place today.
It’s also a bit predictable. For a novel titled “Not Exactly a Love Story,” it’s surprisingly similar to a typical tale of teenage love. Even so, Couloumbis’ tale makes for a quick, enjoyable read for both YA readers and their parents alike.