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The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes

Review

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes

Albert Einstein said, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.” While Einstein’s life couldn’t have been more different from a young American pop star at the turn of the millennium, the sentiment rings true for the characters in Elissa R. Sloan’s novel, THE UNRAVELING OF CASSIDY HOLMES. A story of fame, loneliness, possibility and depression, it is immensely readable, even if less than hopeful --- a great choice as the summer days give way to autumn.

In 1999, Cassidy Holmes is the crowd-pleasing runner-up on the show “Sing It, America!” Dubbing herself Sassy Cassy, the Texas teenager loses the competition and the coveted record contract to the charismatic crooner Stephen St. James. Returning home after her near win sends Cassidy into a depression. She reaches out to one of the connections she made on the program, only to be told there is no solo contract for her. Yet months later, that same contact is in touch with an exciting opportunity that changes her life and perhaps leads to her early death.

"THE UNRAVELING OF CASSIDY HOLMES is an absorbing book --- a page-turner despite its heaviness.... [T]his well-plotted debut novel heralds the arrival of a promising writer."

The call is about joining the recently signed female vocalist act, Gloss, a self-made girl group comprised of four friends until one of them, Viv, fell sick. Before she knows it, Cassidy is Sassy Gloss; she moves in with the other members, is put on a diet, cuts a single, followed by an album, and begins a nationwide tour. The other members of Gloss --- Yumi, Rose and Merry --- are not exactly welcoming to Cassidy, even though they appreciate the talent she brings to the group. Over the next couple of years, Cassidy sees a decline in her mental and physical health even as the group gains recognition and acclaim, becoming the hottest act of the time.

All four young women suffer because of the grueling schedule and the social and cultural expectations, and they are victims of stalking and violence as well. When Cassidy walks away from the group, it is the end of Gloss, but not the end of the challenges they each face. Fifteen years later, Cassidy is discovered having died by suicide, and Yumi, Rose and Merry must rethink what they knew of her, about each other and about themselves.

Each member of Gloss has a secret or two that Sloan strategically reveals, but the center of the novel is Cassidy, both from her perspective in life and the impact her death has on the others. Clinical depression looms large here, and it is the character’s reality before, during and after her years in the public eye. But without allies to help her take care of herself, her depression is exacerbated. Even when her health is stable and she has rebuilt her life, it remains fragile. One last loss is one loss too many for Cassidy.

THE UNRAVELING OF CASSIDY HOLMES is an absorbing book --- a page-turner despite its heaviness. There are some interesting surprises even if the characters aren’t always depicted in as much depth as readers may like. Cassidy’s depression is realistically noted, though Sloan struggles with making it as severe as it needs to be for the story she is telling. Much of her later “unraveling” seems to occur off the page, even as the traumatic events of her Gloss years continue to echo, and there are some missed narrative opportunities. Still, this well-plotted debut novel heralds the arrival of a promising writer.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 18, 2020

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes
by Elissa R. Sloan

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0063009447
  • ISBN-13: 9780063009448