Book review: ‘Between You and Me’ by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

“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!

ISBN: 1439188181 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Meg’s brief history of dancing — and Britney Spears

Not me -- but remember this?!

Not me -- but remember this?!

Growing up, it seems like opportunities to awkwardly dance with friends, classmates and total strangers abound. Starting in the eighth grade, I was a frequent attendee of “dances” in the school’s gymnasium — times I could dress up in my little skirts, put on a pair of low heels and (attempt to) straighten my hair (Please note: I’ve since ceased all attempts at straightening my unstraightable hair. Forever). A sweaty 13-year-old would ask for my hand, he’d slip those beefy arms around my waist and away we would go! Of course, “dancing” then consisted of stepping back and forth and side to side. No pressure. Nothing much going on.

From those first, innocent days, we had the homecoming dances and winter formals of high school. Months of preparation were required to find the right dress and scrounge around for a date, putting out feelers through friends to see if some random guy who sat parallel to your table at lunch would be interested in, you know, taking you or something. When I was formally asked to attend my first homecoming dance with a date in my sophomore year of high school, I was ecstatic. Seriously. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that soul-soaring, overwhelmingly joyous feeling of being asked out of my very first date (aww). But, as the joy began to wear thin and the event drew closer and closer, the anxieties began to set in . . . Do I even really know how to dance? What is dancing? Do I just move around like a crazy person? Should I stand as still as possible, letting the guy do all the work? If we’re “slow dancing,” do I need to have my arms around his neck — or his waist? Do we stand close, or far apart?

What is happening?!

Britney singing "Every Time" -- and I know it's a terrible shot, but I tried!

Britney singing "Every Time" -- and I know it's a terrible shot, but I tried!

Dancing was, for me, a mystery. I survived that homecoming dance with very few bruises and fewer totally awkward dance moves — and was even asked to be someone’s girlfriend (that’s another crazed blog entry!). But I will admit that, to date, dancing is still a puzzle which I’m unsure how to begin solving.

Thankfully, opportunities to break it down in the present are pretty scarce. We have weddings to attend, but you don’t have to dance. No one’s going to make you. The bride and groom might throw you dirty looks for being an uncooperative party pooper or something, but hey — they’re your two left feet. My days battling the general nervousness and sweatiness of adolescence, and the accompanying proms, are over!

Until I go to a show.

So let’s jump into the presnet. This past Tuesday, I attended a performance in D.C. put on by the one and only Ms. Britney Spears. I say performance because, you know, it wasn’t a concert. She wasn’t singing live (save a few songs). But that’s okay with me, really, because girlfriend was working it out! I’ve never seen so much dancing in my life — and definitely not with such a complex array of performers gyrating around her, too.

And I’ve never seen so many skinny girls in their twenties dancing in one place ever. Definitely not at the homecoming dances, not at the proms — not at the formals. Just dancing. Everywhere. So much so that the Verizon Center was shaking. When Brit launched into “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” I was pretty sure the rafters were going to come down.


Pussycat Dolls

And there I was, acting ridiculous. Hip checking my sister. Waving my arms above my head. Dancing along to opening act the Pussycat Dolls’ rendition of “Jai Ho” (good God, I love “Jai Ho!”). I wasn’t thinking about those homecoming dances where I stood in the low heels and the little skirts with some weird guy’s arms around me — I was shaking my moneymaker. And any worries I had about looking totally ridiculous faded out when the heavy beats kicked in.

I have a long history of dancing like I have no sense at concerts. Put John Mayer in front of me and I worry that you’ll never want to be seen with me again. I’m usually hesitant to attend with anyone other than my sister, who’s typically as excited as I am, and usually feel compelled to worn boyfriends about my impending deranged behavior. I try to be kind and give them an out before the event actually begins. If they see me in all of my full-concert-dancing glory, I fear I will have changed in their eyes!

But hey, it’s a good time. If you’re not going to leave your inhibitions at the venue door, why bother going? Like homecoming dances and the Prom, we’re all here to have a good time. Maybe that’s why everyone’s always downing so many beers at these things . . . ?