“She’s so lucky, she’s a star. But she cries, cries, cries in her lonely heart, thinking . . . if there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?” (“Lucky,” Britney Spears)
Loosely based on the private life of Britney Spears, anyone interested in the star’s rise to fame and eventual implosion will find parallels between the one-time media darling and the fictional Kelsey Wade in Between You and Me — but authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (of Nanny Diaries fame) have crafted a dramatic, ripped-from-the-headlines novel all their own.
Before the relationship between their families soured, cousins Logan and Kelsey Wade were inseparable. Growing up in Oklahoma, the pair imagined of life beyond the scope of their small town and close-minded families . . . and unlike Logan, a struggling 20-something, Kelsey has actually achieved her dream. Escaping for Hollywood’s bright lights, Kelsey earns a part on a musical TV show and goes on to become an international pop star.
Now 24, Kelsey is a household name — while Logan is slaving away at a meaningless job in New York City. When an unexpected call reunites the pair after years apart, Logan is torn between wanting to restart a friendship with her famous cousin and keeping her guard up. An opportunity to become a part of the Kelsey Wade Cash Machine means Logan is quickly folded into the trainwreck of Kelsey’s private life, though, and she’s in too deep before she can dream of getting out. And suddenly it’s apparent that America’s sweetheart doesn’t lead such a darling life . . .
Look — um, between you and me? I know a great deal about Britney Spears. Before I became the wizened 26-year-old before you, I was a frequenter of gossip sites and lover of tabloids. My sister is a lifelong Britney fan, sticking on her side despite the head shavings and psych evaluations and custody battles. We even saw her in concert years back.
So reading Between You and Me, it wasn’t hard to spot the Britney/Kelsey similarities:
• Overbearing, obsessive parents using their daughter as a paycheck? Check.
• Beloved superstar who is somehow devoid of any real love in her own life? Check.
• Relationship with a former flame (read: Justin Timberlake) that ends in scandal? Check.
And so on. But here’s the thing: though the novel often reads like an imagined Britney tell-all might, Kelsey is a character all her own. It’s impossible not to sympathize as the weight of her fame grows suffocating. Though millions claim to “love” her, she feels loved and valued by no one — which is a complaint celebrities often voice. We might roll our eyes and scoff, “Yeah, well, go dry your tears with your stacks of money.” But as the old saying goes, money can’t buy happiness . . . and after reading this book, it’s hard to look at the “charmed lives” of stars in the same way.
While Kelsey is an overgrown child kept in perpetual adolescence by the money-makers marketing her virginal image and “purity,” Logan has been hardened by life’s challenges. Not accepting Logan’s “sinful” lifestyle, her parents have voiced their displeasure over Logan’s reunion with Kelsey — and she’s forced to press on without their approval as she ventures on the road with her famous cousin. Being privy to the mercurial moods of Kelsey’s father, Logan’s recovering alcoholic uncle, provides a new perspective on the feud that eventually separated their families. It’s easy to see why Logan is torn between wanting to be there for Kelsey but needing her parents’ acceptance. I found that part of the plot very well-drawn.
As Kelsey meets and marries a struggling singer subjected to intense media scrutiny, the pace really picks up. One of the saddest scenes involves Aaron trying to run a simple errand when he is surrounded by swarms of fans. When he’s rescued, he seems so bewildered and scared. Like he had no idea what he signed up for — and maybe he didn’t. And Kelsey can’t help him, can’t reach him. It’s already too late.
By the time all that goes down, I was very invested in Kelsey and her future. It’s obvious how vulnerable and broken she is. Having to sneak out of your own house — the one you bought and paid for — so your parents don’t know you’re up past your “bed time”? It’s one step above imprisonment. She was a caged animal, that’s for sure, and it was easy to see she was close to snapping. Logan saw it . . . but the Wades could not.
If I had one gripe with Between You and Me, it’s that I never really got to know Logan better. As the story’s narrator, I wanted to see more of where she was coming from — but she was so emotionally dependent on Kelsey and their shared history that it got frustrating. Since the cousins were once inseparable, I understood how the loss of her best friend would throw Logan — and how much it might hurt to see someone you were once close to rise so high while you’re left floundering. But I never got to really know Logan; everything we learn about her is reflected through Kelsey’s prism.
Fans of contemporary, fast-paced fiction and those interested in the rise (and eventual fall) of stars within the celebrity culture will find a quick, often sad read in Between You and Me. Though I’d hoped for a more uplifting ending, I found the story believable and heart-wrenching. And I won’t look at celebrities the same way again.
3.5 out of 5!