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Wonderkid: A Novel Hardcover – February 27, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Musician Blake Lear named himself after his favorite artistic influences, William Blake and Edward Lear. As the lead singer of the British band Wonderkids, Blake utilizes these influences in his songs, a combination of silly and nonsensical yet catchy lyrics that brings Blake and his group more attention than they ever imagined. When the band is offered a lucrative record deal, stardom seems to be just around the corner. The only catch is that their promised adoring audience will be children. The Wonderkids agree to become the combination Beatles/Teletubbies of their generation, wowing screaming kids and their parents in full-to-capacity venues around America. Their story is narrated by Sweet, a young boy Blake adopts who becomes the group’s de facto manager, merchandiser, counselor, and CEO of damage control as the band battles censorship, a drug bust, and various sticky personnel issues. Fast-paced and full of details only a music insider would know, novelist and musician Stace’s latest is a funny, untamed, highly pleasurable read, a wise and witty visit to a world few of us have experienced. --Carol Gladstein

Review

"Wonderkid is Stace's fourth novel, and its subject - an English rock band storming (and then foundering upon) the shores of America - brings his musical and literary careers together for a lighthearted look at an education formed on the road." —SF Chronicle
 
"Wonderkid is good fun and deliciously entertaining, a light-hearted story about a band that never was—but I kind of wish had been" —Wall Street Journal

Hilarious . . . Winningly dry . . . Marvelously drawn . . . The Wonderkids’ increasingly unhinged antics and eventual . . . flameout, which culminate in Blake’s seeming to expose himself onstage at the “Pack ’n’ Play Festival” (Stace has a marvelous time with names), are entertaining. And there are some absolute gems in the final chapters.” --The New York Times Book Review

"Fast-paced and full of details only a music insider would know, novelist and musician Stace’s latest is a funny, untamed, highly
pleasurable read, a wise and witty visit to a world few of us have experienced"—Booklist 

"Stace has a great eye and a lifetime of inside knowledge that he deploys to comic, touching effect."—Portland Oregonian
 
"In all, Wonderkid is a work of both great wit and deep tenderness. It’s a tale of raucous lost boys written by an author with an exacting eye, but who also truly feels for these misfits."—Philadelphia City Paper

“Wesley Stace has always been the only genuinely gifted fiction writer who also happens to be a rock star, but Wonderkid is the book he was born to write. And if you prefer your novels brazen, poignant and hilarious, as I do, you were born to read it. Like a great show, this will stay with you long after the last cymbal crash and power strum.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts
 
“Wesley Stace has written one of the very few novels about rock bands and the music business that doesn’t have a single false note or outsider-wannabe pretensions. It’s a relief—and a joy—to read about the weird particularities of the lives of musicians by someone who knows the world so intimately. He deconstructs, with an elegant and sharp eye, the heightened sense of the unreality of fame, the relentless grind of touring, and the Ego and the Id made deliciously manifest in the Wonderkids (my favorite new band). He is both ruthless and compassionate, but never cynical. I thought about these characters even when I wasn’t reading the book, and the story will stay with me for a very long time. Wonderkid has both enormous entertainment value and serious literary worth, a very hard trick to pull off.” —Rosanne Cash, author of Composed
 
Highly pleasurable. And unusual, not least because this is a rock ’n’ roll novel written by someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.” —Peter Carey, author of The Chemistry of Tears
 
“Rock ’n’ roll is an infantile business, but never more so than in the hands of the Wonderkids, a group of post-teens, playing music for pre-teens, whilst living chaotic adult lives. In Wonderkid, Wesley Stace absolutely captures the band experience: the triumphs, the letdowns, the sell-outs, the success, and the scandal, with an extra helping of absurdity. There were times reading this book that I could actually smell the dank dressing rooms, or feel the bus rolling down the highway to the next gig.” —Peter Buck
 
“Finally, a sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll book for Dan Zanes fans! Wonderkid also happens to be one of the best books about fathers and sons since Turgenev.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure
 
“I can’t believe that this amazing book exists. Wonderkid is by far the best music novel I’ve ever read, and the most unexpectedly wild ride I’ve ever been on. Every detail is perfect. Do you want to read about the music business? Family dynamics? Children’s entertainment? The often uneasy relationship between the US and the UK? The creative process? This book lays it all out with love and wild imagination. Wonderkid is uplifting, inspiring, unhinged, and unpredictable, just like rock ’n’ roll itself.” —Dan Zanes
 
“Wesley Stace’s Wonderkid is a marvelous satiric mashup of rock ’n’ roll and pack ’n’ plays. It’s sweet and funny and knowing—and this is me, holding up my lighter for more.” —Joshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed
 
“At turns illuminating and heartbreaking—but always funny—Wonderkid is A Visit from the Goon Squad for the kiddie music world. A pitch-perfect excavation into the lighter heart of the music industry.” —Colin Meloy
 
Wonderkid is a gem, a rock ’n’ roll novel written from the inside, with an insider’s knowledge of music and the music business, and all the exhilaration and indignities that come with the territory. Wesley Stace is a wise and witty guide to the career of Blake Lear and the Wonderkids, a fictional band that becomes so real over the course of the novel that you’ll think you heard them on the radio.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Nine Inches
 
“Wesley Stace writes with verve, pace, and great good humor. Wonderkid is a flamboyant novel about rock ’n’ roll, sex and drugs, broken dreams, and Brits on tour in America. Buy it at once.” —Patrick McGrath, author of Constance

"A perfectly pitched coming-of-age novel that’s as playful and provocative as rock music itself. . . Stace brings the road alive with exquisitely authentic details. . . The familiarity is entirely engaging, and it’s likely that you’ll worry about the band’s trajectory, the looming loss of innocence, and probably the fate of rock music. Stace doesn’t take things in the usual direction, though, so don’t give up on these guys. In the end, they prove that the spirit of rock and roll might grow up a bit, but, indeed, it never dies. –ForeWord Reviews

"A whimsical novel of the rock industry that frequently delights with its wry humor and insider’s knowledge." —Kirkus Reviews

"Loud, funny, and entertaining in the extreme . . . A real insiders’ look into life on tour." —Bookreporter
 

"Delicious . . . Stace is a writer of considerable verve and accomplishment . . . Stace has a great eye and a lifetime of inside knowledge that he deploys to comic, touching effect." Portland Oregonian
 

"A bittersweet coming-of-age story . . . Wonderkid is a work of both great wit and deep tenderness. It’s a tale of raucous lost boys written by an author with an exacting eye, but who also truly feels for these misfits." —Philadelphia City Paper
 

"If Stace’s latest novel, his fourth, rings true, it’s because he is writing what he knows. For 25 years, he performed smart indie rock under the pseudonym John Wesley Harding . . . A great rock ’n’ roll novel." —Boston Globe

"Entertaining. . . The tale is best when it focuses on Sweet’s journey from orphan to touring with the band, at times sharing DNA with Almost Famous. . . The ultimately touching father-son relationship between Sweet and Lear reminds the reader that not only do children eventually have to learn to be adults, but also that adults would be better off if they spent more time acting like kids. —Washington Independent Review of Books




"Wesley Stace writes with verve, pace and great good humor. Wonderkid is a flamboyant novel about rock 'n' roll, sex and drugs, broken dreams, and Brits on tour in America. Buy it at once."—Patrick McGrath, author of Asylum

"Wesley Stace has written one of the very few novels about rock bands and the music business that doesn't have a single false note or outsider-wannabe pretensions. It's a relief—and a joy—to read about the weird particularities of the lives of musicians by someone who knows the world so intimately. He deconstructs, with an elegant and sharp eye, the heightened sense of the unreality of fame, the relentless grind of touring, and the Ego and the Id made deliciously manifest in the Wonderkids (my favorite new band). He is both ruthless and compassionate, but never cynical. I thought about these characters even when I wasn't reading the book, and the story will stay with me for a very long time. Wonderkid has both enormous entertainment value and serious literary worth, a very hard trick to pull off." —Rosanne Cash

"Wonderkid is a blast for all lovers of rock 'n' roll…A rocking novel, with a heartfelt take on music, fathers and sons, and the perils of selling out." —Shelf Awareness
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press (February 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1468308017
  • ISBN-13: 978-1468308013
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JB on May 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
LOVED this book. Granted, I was around at the time everything in it takes place, know the bands and got all the musical in-jokes and references, of which there are many. But you don't have to get that the title of this review is a Tenpole Tudor song to love this novel. It's funny as hell, it moves right along, it's narrated from a charmingly British perspective (which makes JHW/WS so endearing in concert!), and it's full of surprises. Love the characters, love the plot, love the way Stace the author is sure to tie up his loose ends in a neat package. If you were even vaguely interested in the rock music scene from, say, 1967 to 1994, this book is a killer. If you weren't...well, you should have been but you'll enjoy the book anyway. Except not as much as me. A very entertaining read. Fun, fun, fun and other, similar song titles apply.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Barnard on August 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Jack and Blake are brothers and the first part of the story begins with them in England, describing how they got into music and their aspirations as a rock and roll band. They find themselves thrust into “Your child’s first rock band.” (Page 88), making Everyone Music that is marketed to entertain kids and adults alike. It is described as “Punk for kids. Punk fur kids whose parents like punk. Music for kids with cool parents. Top of the pops for tots.” Page 69). The band is made complete with the twins on rhythm section and Greg, but the twins quit before the band makes a run on America and Greg quits as eloquently as possible just as soon as they get to America. These deserters are replaced with Becca Fonseca, nicknamed mum, on bass and Curtis, the non-controversial dreads and diversity drummer. The band is truly now for Everyone but they’d all gone a bit American and the shenanigans truly begin. After controversy Becca is replaced with Camille as the new bass player, “‘Black, very beautiful, quite serious, slightly eccentric, possibly gay, definitely vegetarian, and Christian.'” (Page 197). Camille and Curtis make up the responsible part of the band, and that says something of the other half. Blake has adopted Sweet, our narrator, during the England to America journey, and fame hits the band hard, the charts are risen through, and toes step out of line. They are a kids band after all. It all falls to pieces multiple times, but the band pulls through until the big bust and the big breakup. Mitchell the manager quits and Andy the Damager, their rep from the record company, is none too pleased with the whole affair. Blake goes to jail, goes solo, goes sane and insane. Then the big finale…

“‘I want to be a musician when I grow up, Mum.’ ‘Well, son, you can’t do both.'” (Page 160).
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Format: Hardcover
Several years ago, I took my now-11-year-old son to see Dan Zanes in concert. The show was at a venue where I had previously seen concerts by some pretty big names in indie music, and it was sold out for this concert aimed at preschoolers. The place was packed, and although I only knew a few of Zanes's songs, I was definitely in the minority. As little kids spun and danced in the aisles, their parents rocked out and sang along with all the lyrics. Needless to say, my mind went back to this slightly surreal scene several times as I read Wesley Stace's WONDERKID, about the rise and fall of a fictional 1990s band who, intentionally or not, became for a while the biggest thing out there for the littlest rock fans.

Wesley Stace, who has performed under the stage name John Wesley Harding and organized the series of musical variety shows known as the Cabinet of Wonders, certainly has the musical and literary chops to write convincingly about a band like the Wonderkids. He traces the band's genesis to the childhood of two English brothers (known as Blake and Jack). Jack was always the quieter, less academically ambitious but perhaps more musical one. Blake, who was well on his way to a PhD before he decided to write his dissertation not only on nonsense but also in nonsense, becomes the charismatic, slightly off-kilter heart and soul of the band.

The band's story is narrated by Sweet, a young teen at the novel's opening who almost literally falls into the band's lap as he tries to make a getaway after shoplifting a record. Sweet is miserable with his foster parents, and Blake soon adopts him (eventually literally), bringing him on board to sell merch at some of the very first Wonderkids concerts.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An 'inside baseball' look at the glory days of rock and roll. If you are of a certain vintage, this book will take you back.
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This is a very funny and often poignant look at the journey of an indie rock band that is repackaged as a kids' pop group, in the 1980s. It's also a "what might have been" story about the children's entertainment biz. It seems pretty unlikely now that such a band could have made it big, but it's fun to imagine.
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