Author: Russell J. Sanders
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Genre(s): Young Adult
Page Count: 298
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
I'm a fan of Russell Sanders and loved his YA novel All You Need is Love set in north Texas in 1969. Sanders has a keen eye for a historical setting and in Heartthrob, we are introduced to Nate Berrigan, an aspiring actor in the Hollywood of 1963.
On the surface, Nate is your standard Teen Beat hottie - funny, cute, the break-out star of a new sitcom called Kerry! where he plays the wisecracking teenage son. But of course his reality is much more grim and heartbreaking. Nate's parents are truly horrible - his father thinks of himself as Nate's manager, but loses Nate's money gambling, drinking and womanizing, while his mother manages her anxiety daily with handfuls of pills.
Nate liked acting. It gave him a chance to be somebody else. And getting away from his real life for a while each day was a big relief.
One of his co-stars is Tai Atua, whose loving and supportive family makes Nate realize how much he has been missing. Tai also offers Nate insight into racism and the dangers of "driving while black" but also the hope that Martin Luther King gives the nation with his inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech that summer of 1963.
The book is structured like a screenplay, with scenes instead of chapters and we get a lot of internal monologues and asides that provide insight into Nate and Tai and their families and fellow actors. Granted Kerry, as well as Nate's parents, read very much like caricatures but we get a very clear picture of how fame and fortune corrupt people, and how sometimes "America's Favorite Comedian" can be a raging homophobe and all-around jerk.
This is a YA novel so there are no on-page sex scenes and the love story that develops between Nate and Tai is sweet and very affirming. There are some tough issues (suicide) on the way to a nicely done HEA, and I really enjoyed this book for the characters as well as the well-done setting. 4 stars.
I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.