It took me years to confess that I loved pop music. When someone asked what kind of music I liked, I’d demur or say I liked all kinds of music (which is true, I regularly rank rap and country and pop and musical theater in my Spotify Wrapped). But I just love pop! It’s fun, it’s simple, the great pop songs are transcendent, and even the not-transcendent ones are pretty great!
It’s this love of pop that first drew me to Stars Collide, a novel by Rachel Lacey (Read Between the Lines). Eden Sands, one of the titular stars, is a nearly lifelong pop star who’s in a bit of a rut. She’s been famous since she was 16, but her last album, following on the heels of her divorce from her husband, didn’t do so well. In an attempt to drum up buzz for her Grammy’s performance, she (begrudgingly) invites Anna Moss to sing a duet with her. Anna, a bubbly pansexual pop princess, is a former star of a television show for teens and itching to be seen as a mature artist. Performing with Eden is a dream come true, not least because she has had a crush on Eden since she was a kid.
After the success of the Grammy’s performance, and in an attempt to boost sales for her upcoming tour, Eden invites Anna to join her on tour, where they continue to get closer, causing Anna’s crush to swell and prompting a major realization for Eden: She’s gay, and she has it bad for her opening act. I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan, and this plot is catnip for anyone with even the slightest interest in the conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift is queer: Imagine if Taylor came out on tour because she had started dating her opener Phoebe Bridgers. That’s sort of the level we’re talking here — if Phoebe Bridgers dressed like Jojo Siwa and made music like Hayley Kiyoko’s. (If a Gaylor reads this book, please let’s chat about it, I’d love to dissect how many Taylor nods there are…)
Like a good pop song, this book is fluff at first glance, and surprisingly deeper when you look closer. It’s a fascinating look at aging in pop music and the stress of fame on someone’s life, a tender portrayal of coming out later in life (Eden is 36 when she falls for the openly pansexual, 27-year-old Anna), a complex look at the power dynamics inherent in romantic relationships and the music industry, and a solid friends-to lovers-story. The slow burn doesn’t always feel as simmering throughout as I would have liked, but the sex scenes really are fiery (don’t read where someone can peek over your shoulder once you get to that portion of the book). It accurately captures the intense, whirlwind feeling that overwhelms your whole life when you finally feel the thing everyone’s been singing those damn songs about.
Some of the dialogue of the book can feel simple at times, and while reading I often had the sense that the book is ripe for adaptation, though sometimes that was because I was missing the connective tissue: weeks of tour rehearsals get summed up in a few paragraphs, a dreadful ex suddenly reappears to incite the Big Fight that every romance book needs, conversations between Eden and Anna can feel a little straightforward. The two have some fights along the way, but they run into few obstacles in their relationship or Eden’s coming out. It’s an incredibly easy read, in both senses of the word; the beats are pretty familiar and sometimes too pat, but I also read it in about two sittings.
Ultimately, this book might not be one of our transcendent pop anthems. But I think if a pop song or a romance novel makes you feel good, then it’s done its job and Stars Collide did do that. It’s got two winning leads, a fun backstage setting, and so much rainbow glitter you could see it from the nosebleeds.