The Enormous Price Of Fame
The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes
By: Elissa R. Sloan
If you’re like me, you loved a good Behind the Music episode on VH1. Although the show hasn’t aired in a few years, I used to love watching the story of a talented musician reach his or her dreams of fame. As you and I know, many of the episodes took a sad turn because of the real-life toll that fame and fortune takes on young talent. It wasn’t until this week’s book that I really understood how fame brings celebrities and musicians down.
I read about this week’s book before it was released because many early reviews compared it to Daisy Jones and The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. While this week’s book is similar in a few ways, the main characters could not be more different. While they share incredible musical talent and rise to fame at an early age, how they handle it is entirely different.
The Unravelling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan, is the fictional story of Cassidy Holmes, a 17-year-old girl from Houston, Texas, who becomes one of three finalists on a show called Sing It America. This novel opens with Cassidy waiting to perform her final numbers on the show to see if America chooses her as the winner and recipient of a record deal.
Cassidy is a small-town girl from a family of five kids growing up in a middle-class household. It is her dream to be successful and to give her family all the things that they could only dream of. When she loses the show and is awarded second place, she is devastated, depressed, and spends the holidays of her senior year in high school baking cookies. She never finishes high school and she basically never enjoys a cookie again as the stress of her weight and image take over her life.
After losing Sing It America, Cassidy doesn’t know what to do with herself. She is so lost, as she never contemplated what her life would be like after losing. One day, she is called by one of the show’s judges to audition for an all-girl pop band called Gloss.
Gloss is made up of three girls; the fourth has just dropped out of the band for health reasons and they must replace her with a talented and attractive teeny bopper. Even though Cassidy is cute and talented, she must be transformed into a gorgeous and anorexically thin performer. After meeting the girls, Cassidy is eager to be part of the group. This is what she always wanted and she feels that the right thing to do is join the band and start her very public life on the road.
The first chapter starts with three of the Gloss girls in London in 2017 doing a radio interview. As they are doing the interview, it is announced that Cassidy has been found dead in her home in California. The three other members of Gloss haven’t seen or heard from Cassidy since she left the group mid-tour in 2002. You, the reader, don’t know why she left or why they haven’t spoken. And while you learn of her death on page one, you have no idea what could have driven this successful and talented young woman to commit suicide.
Slowly, you learn the story through the points of view of the four Gloss girls, Cassidy, Merry, Yumi, and Rose otherwise known as Sassy, Cherry, Tasty, and Rosy. Even though this story takes place in the early 2000’s I couldn’t help but think of the 90’s pop band, The Spice Girls.
As you read this story, you begin to put the pieces together. It’s not just the incredible amount of stress, lack of sleep, and extreme dieting but life on the road could kill any young person. Loss of friendships and the estrangement from family is sometimes too much. Isolation for months at a time with a never-ending schedule and no time for yourself is terrible for anyone. While the stress of being an international celebrity may work for some, it can be overwhelming for others. As in many of the Behind the Music stories, so many musicians turn to drugs, anorexia, reckless behavior, and paranoia as a way to control their out-of-control life.
Cassidy is too sweet and way too naïve for public life. You see this early on when she is stalked by fans. She is very bothered by it and can’t seem to get over it. She wants to be a normal person but also wants to be famous. Her life is a contradiction. She wants to date her cute college boyfriend who lives in a dorm but also wants to continue a life onstage. Cassidy is uncomfortable with all that fame brings to her from very early on. While Daisy Jones embraces it and becomes part of the high-flying partying lifestyle, Cassidy just can’t seem to ever unwind and accept it.
She loves her bandmates and becomes close with them early on, and yet she is so different from them. She bonds with each one individually, she confides in them, learns their secrets and their fears, but also has no trouble walking away and never speaking to them again mid-tour in 2002. The question is why? Why is it so easy for her to walk away?
Cassidy is a very conflicted young woman who doesn't know what she wants. She has no one she can trust to direct her to make the right decisions. She is isolated and lonely, which I think is the biggest takeaway of the novel. As we know and hear all the time, it’s lonely at the top. The purpose of the story told by the four different points of view, is to get a clear idea of what actually led to Cassidy’s suicide, 15 years after she left the band. She is a heroine for leaving the band and doing what is right for her life before things truly spun out of control, but perhaps it was already too late for her. That is something that you the reader can ponder as you read this behind-the-music look at the rise and fall of a teenage pop singer.
The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes
By: Elissa R. Sloan