We’ve all been sucked into the boy band/girl group mania at some point or another. Whether it was with One Direction, ‘N Sync, Spice Girls, Little Mix or, more currently, any of the overly popular K-pop groups, we’ve been there. The novel “The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes” is the perfect telling of what goes on behind the scenes of what we, as fans, don’t get to see. And it’s not as pleasant as we may think.
Over the years, all of these bands — plus many more — have released movies and documentaries that take viewers one step closer to their more vulnerable, personal lives. But none of them achieve what “The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes” does. Not only do we get an honest and raw behind-the-scenes, but also a mystery that goes beyond the fictional band’s break up: the recent death of girl groupd star Cassidy Holmes.
Before we get more into the synopsis of the book, it’s very important to mention that this book comes with trigger warnings, including suicide, descriptions of depression and eating disorders, on-page physical assault, off-page sexual assault, body shaming and body dysmorphia. Something that struck me — but really shouldn’t — is that the writer, Elissa R. Sloan, actually included these warnings in an author’s note prior to beginning the novel. That is something every author should consider incorporating if they’re going to describe delicate subjects.
By reading those warnings, you can probably already imagine this isn’t a silly, light-hearted story about the biggest band in the aughts. This story takes you through a journey many of the people in the real-life 2000s pop groups actually went through, but don’t want to talk about publicly to preserve some part of their privacy. Luckily, those stories didn’t typically have such a tragic ending.
Sloan created Gloss, a band that, thanks to her carefully detailed descriptions, feels like it lived right alongside ‘N Sync and the Spice Girls. But the thing is, we’re not only transported back to the early 2000s via Cassidy Holmes’ perspective, we’re also getting the rest of the band’s POVs in 2017, post-Holmes’ death.
We begin in a national singing competition called “America Sings” — also a fruit of Sloan’s imagination — where we meet Cassidy Holmes while she’s participating in the final show. Her nerves become your nerves in hopes she’ll win and get her desired record deal over the other two participants she’s facing.
Unfortunately, though, she doesn’t get it. She’s flown back home to Houston where she wallows too deep in her feelings of self-loathing over not winning the competition — something that was completely out of her hands, since it’s decided by the public. So, already we begin seeing traces of strong emotions in a character as young as Cassidy for not accomplishing her very high expectations: something that most certainly happened, not only at the time, but surely still does when kids participate in these kinds of televised competitions.
A few months later, though, just when Cassidy begins to get over her seemingly unachievable dream and overcome her sense of failure, she gets a call — a call from one of the people at the record company that signed the winner. It’s to audition to become the fourth member of a band thought to be the next Big Thing. Cassidy, of course, not truly over her dream of becoming a singer, jumps at the chance and is flown back to Los Angeles to meet the band.
In 2017, Rose, Meredith (or Merry) and Yumiko struggle to understand what could’ve happened to Cassidy. The four of them hadn’t really spoken since the band’s demise in 2002, but what they’d heard was that she’d had a small and quiet life away from the media. So, when news broadcasters announce that “Sassy” (yes, they each have cheesy nicknames) Cassy’s body had been found, their hearts drop down to their stomachs. Some more than others.
Back in 2000, Cassidy gets the gig and the four girls embark on an adventure unlike any other. From world tours, to music videos, to VIP parties. Their late teens become drama and, eventually, trauma-filled.
Sloan puts her characters in “The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes” through hell and back. But, unfortunately, much of what these girls go through, also happens in real life. More noticeably she describes the kinds of diets they were made to eat to maintain unrealistic figures for the public eye.
In it, the members of this real-life band talk about how some of them came out of their experience with eating disorders. They were constantly afraid of what the papers were going to say about them, including calling them names, like “Pudge Spice.” Essentially, the documentary explains what it was like to have all eyes on them and dealing with others’ opinions about their bodies. As young women, and especially at a time when therapy and eating disorders weren’t often mentioned publicly, they struggled, and it turned into something it shouldn’t have.
Sloan takes it up a notch by including how people higher up (usually men) took advantage of the girls and how it affected them both individually and collectively. Do they confide in each other? Keep it to themselves? Does it affect their dynamic? Are they actually friends? And, of course, there’s the mystery of Cassidy’s death. How did it happen?
“The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes” is a great book to get lost in while uncovering the hidden background of bands. There’s BIPOC representation, as well as LGBTQIA+ relationships, which give this story a touch of modern themes. Get your barrettes ready and enjoy the show.