The dark side of celebrity and early success
Cassidy Holmes isn’t just a celebrity.
She is “Sassy Gloss,” the fourth member of the hottest pop group America has ever seen. Hotter than Britney dancing with a snake, hotter than Christina getting dirrty, Gloss was the pop act that everyone idolized. Fans couldn’t get enough of them, their music, and the drama that followed them like moths to a flame—until the group’s sudden implosion in 2002. And at the center of it all was Sassy Cassy, the Texan with a signature smirk that had everyone falling for her.
But now she’s dead. Suicide.
The world is reeling from this unexpected news, but no one is more shocked than the three remaining Glossies. Fifteen years ago, Rose, Merry, and Yumi had been the closest to Cassidy, and this loss is hitting them hard. Before the group split, they each had a special bond with Cassidy — truths they told, secrets they shared. But after years apart, each of them is wondering: what could they have done?
I’m very fond of novels set in and around the entertainment industry. Elissa R. Sloan’s debut novel was pitched as being in the same vein as Taylor Jenkins Reid’s (superb) Daisy Jones & the Six, so my attention was immediately grabbed. I read this very soon after receiving it, and I’m happy to say I very much enjoyed it.
The novel is told from multiple perspectives, alternating between all four of the Gloss girls — Cassidy’s from just before and during the Gloss years, the others from the present, after they learn of Cassidy’s death. Sloan does a great job of providing extra details and hints over the course of the novel as to what really caused the break-up of Gloss at the height of the group’s fame and popularity. The novel draws inspiration from groups like the Spice Girls and other all-female pop groups — how they are positioned, managed, the expectations that come with their success, and the hardships that lie below the fame and new fortune. After all, there is always a catch…
The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes is a clear-eyed examination of how fame, success, and celebrity culture can twist people (especially women), how the entertainment industry can chew people up, after sculpting them into fantasies or “ideal” versions of what the industry thinks they should be. In particular, the novel examines what the industry does to young women, and all of the attendant emotional and physical abuse (including self-inflicted). The novel is populated by various characters who exist in this ecosystem, from other performers and stars; to the managers and publicists who keep the machine turning, sometimes by covering up scandals and also manipulating their young charges.
It was interesting to see the four main characters navigate their success and, in the case of the three survivors, post-megastardom life. Each of the survivors has had a quite different life and career after the dissolution of Gloss, and Sloan gives us more details as the novel progresses (there are some surprises, so I won’t go into any more detail). Despite being about stardom and larger-than-life entertainment personalities, I liked that the novel was very character-focused, and more interested in the smaller, quieter moments of these characters’ lives: their relationships with those outside the industry, each other, and the various people they come into contact with over the course of the few years their group was active.
Sloan’s writing is excellent throughout, and the characterization is very well-done. You come to care for the characters, even if their shine gets slowly worn off as the novel progresses. The author keeps us guessing, offering the aforementioned hints that can create the occasional red herring. Some of these red herrings suggested more shocking reasons for the break-up of the group, but ultimately it boiled down to a very human story: one with elements of love, friendship, betrayal, loyalty, trust, and family.
If you enjoyed the aforementioned Daisy Jones & the Six, and also novels such as Dan Bevacqua’s Molly Bit, then I think you’ll enjoy this, too. Alternatively, if you are looking for a novel about friendships, broken trust, and coming-of-age under the spotlight, then I also think you’ll find a lot to like here.
I very much enjoyed this, and I’m looking forward to reading whatever the author writes next. Recommended.