Between You and Me
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
2012 • 272 pages • Atria Books
Between You and Me is, quite obviously, inspired by the story of Britney Spears, especially her well-publicized personal struggles in 2006 and 2007. Regular Jane Logan Wade is having a rough go at life in New York City, with a career that’s going nowhere, a living situation she can’t stand, and a man who will never commit to her. When her cousin, international pop sensation Kelsey Wade, reaches out to her, she jumps at the chance. But she ends up embroiled in the personal drama of Kelsey’s life—her controlling parents, her tempestuous relationship with back-up dancer Aaron, and the secret, traumatic past they both share that eventually comes out…
Well, it comes out on Kelsey’s family’s end. I’m still wildly unsure what Logan’s dad did.
It ends up reading like Poppy Z. Brite’s Plastic Jesus meets Gossip Girl, but without the core transformative element at the core of Plastic Jesus that makes it at least an interesting premise. It even suffers from the same “inspired by real life” problem that Plastic Jesus does—it assumes that you know all about the inspiration, so it can glide and elide to the points in the narrative that are juicy without doing any of the legwork. (That’s a Zack Snyder kind of move, people!) The thing is, I thought Between You and Me would do the same. I thought the transformative element would be Kelsey and Logan reuniting after so long—that Logan would provide something necessary to Kelsey’s life that the inspiration may or may not have had. With an actual, loving friend who doesn’t want anything from her, maybe Kelsey would have the kind of support she actually needs during this rough time in her life. that Kelsey, with an actual, loving friend, might get the kind of support she actually needs during this rough time in her life.
But that would mean a narrative that values female friendships, which this book absolutely does not. Logan ditches all of her friends in New York City, which might have been fine, if we didn’t hear from a friend of hers whose wedding she skips. (Of course, the friend turns out to be angling for Kelsey freebies, so it’s fine to not like her.) Kelsey doesn’t really have any female friends, except a few women who are such cartoonishly bad influences that I had to laugh. True, Kelsey and Logan do express affection and love for each other, but their friendship largely consists of rehashing their childhood: they have sleep overs, watch bad movies, talk smack about boys.
In fact, women are not like Logan—a smart, quiet, analytical brunette who is explicitly compared to Zoe Deschanel at one point—are treated pretty poorly in the narrative, and we all know how well crapping on women for their choices in a rigged system sits with me. (Not well, if you’re new to these parts.)
I’m not sure why Between You and Me fictionalizes Britney Spears’ story like this. McLaughlin and Kraus do provide pat explanations for why Kelsey is having so much trouble—her father used to be an abusive alcoholic, her parents infantilize, she’s too sheltered to function in society—but they don’t do anything with Kelsey’s forward momentum. They especially don’t give Kelsey a happy ending, just Kelsey and Logan splitting up for good. So why retell such a famous story if you’re not going to do anything with it?
Ultimately, all it does is remind me of how this ground was so much better covered and treated when Craig Ferguson, no stranger to the low blow, refused to make jokes at Spears’ expense because she was a real, human woman suffering from an illness. With a gap of five years between the inspirational events and the pub date, I’m baffled as to why McLaughlin and Kraus didn’t try to do anything other than simply rehash the events of note without even asking us to see Kelsey as a human, first and foremost.
Oh, and there’s a hideous transphobic joke that’s played off as a cute first date joke, so, you know, barf.
Hey, you know what’s actually inspiring? Britney Spears’ Instagram account, where she posts silly selfies, pictures of her adorable children, shares goofy memes, and promotes her work. She made it, y’all. She made it out of a really dark period in her life just fine. So we’re all gonna be just fine. I wish Between You and Me had made me feel the same way.
I fished this book out of a cardboard box of freebies.