John Teti, writer for The AV Club:
Johnny Dale is writing a book on—get this—the Internet! I know what you’re saying, ‘I’ve read free online literature before,’ but this is different. Johnny’s The Darling Budds is a real book with characters and plot and wit and suspense and whatnot. I love it so far. Read it, and tell your literate friends.
Chris Dahlen, writer for Pitchfork:
Johnny Dale’s characters are richer, prettier, maybe smarter, and let’s hope more troubled than us. They lead charmed lives and most of the time, they can’t stand it. I’m jealous of them, enthralled by them, and I thoroughly dig reading about them.
Stephanie Sinkhorn, Maybe Genius:
If you’re interested in writing well-executed and fleshed-out YA fiction, this is a prime example. The teenagers are clever and interesting, but still genuinely teenagers. With teenage feelings and teenage imperfections. No forced witty comebacks, no jaded too-cool-for-the-world outlook, no superficial vapidity.
Other things I appreciate about the novel: it sticks to the story and doesn’t ramble. There’s enough lush description and setting to give you a genuine feeling of place without blahblahblahing on for way too long about The Very Important Lemon Tree In The Garden and stuff. The cast is incredibly diverse without feeling like the author was going for a diverse cast, if that makes sense. Race and sexuality are well-represented, but not forced down your throat like, “Hey, look, I have a token XXX character!” It feels natural to the environment and the story. The student-adult relationships are varied and realistic.
There’s intrigue. Embarrassment. Growth. Love. Crushes. Teenagerdom. It’s great.
Jenny Zhang, Phire Walk With Me:
There’s a real plot involving a political conspiracy, but thematically The Darling Budds is about love. It’s not necessarily a love story…there are get-togethers and break-ups, yes, but more than that it’s just about being in love: with the city, with the summer, with the night. Similarly, reading the book is an exercise in falling in love for you, too. Not with the titular characters, who have yet to actually appear in the book, but with the characters usually found on the fringes of a story.
Johnny describes each character so carefully, lingering on subtle touches like a stray strand of hair or a creased shirt. His affection for the characters shines through in every new chapter. There’s never an undertone of amusement at the characters’ expense, and there’s never a sense that a “grown-up” writer is talking down to his younger readers. The characters are real almost to a fault, and it’s a little painful sometimes how much I relate to the honest confrontation of their flaws.
There’s an intentional misdirection in the title: the book isn’t really about The Darling Budds. However, it’s about how each character defines themselves in context of these central but absent figures….what teenager doesn’t relate to the feeling of being utterly overshadowed by a friend?
If you enjoy contemporary YA with a bit of mystery, a healthy serving of tasteful fashion, a sprinkle of relationship drama, and a dash of Southern charm, you should try out Johnny Dale’s lovely serial, The Darling Budds. It’s available for free online, and is updated mostly on Sunday afternoons. Delicious.
Trisha Wolfe, YA Bound
Johnny Dale is a wonderfully descriptive writer; painting the setting of New Orleans with vivid clarity and beauty. I am seriously in awe. I’m amazed at the depth, the personality, the imperfections these characters have. And how real “the gang” in The Darling Budds has become to me. There is a central plot the story arc focuses on, but I don’t find myself reading to discover the ‘who did it’. I devoured these chapters because I was taken with the characters’ lives. Their struggles are so real. Each one of them has an amazing backstory, love interest, and well developed issues, and they are all thrown together because of The Twins. I’m sucked into the romantic development between two of the characters and am biting my nails to find out what happens between them.
Brittany Roshelle, The Write Stuff
The Darlings Budds is a breath of fresh air for a young-adult novel. It encompasses the psyche and mindset of young adolescents perfectly and for the sake of YA, this is finally a storyline that creates intrigue without the use of vampires, werewolves, demi-gods, or wizards. As I said before, it’s breath of much-needed fresh air…
The fact that this book is available for free online demonstrates that Johnny Dale is a writer true to the craft. This is obvious the moment you begin reading this striking novel with wonderfully developed, jaded characters. And did I mention the beautiful city of New Orleans is laid out right before the readers eyes?