Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Year Release: 2021
Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: abuse (physical, sexual, mental), kidnapping, gaslighting, manipulation, abuse, forced dieting and weight loss, homophobia, sexual assault
A dream turns into a nightmare as Denver sees an opportunity to get into the R&B industry through superstar Sean “Mercury” Ellis. It starts off with the lavish trappings of fame like parties and studio time, but devolves into manipulation and abuse as Merc tries to stamp out Denver’s voice, while also showing the ways she can fight back.
With parallels to the 2019 documentary, Surviving R. Kelly, this novel in verse does not pull any punches, exposing the dark side of the music industry and the ways young women can fight back.
The prose in this novel is simply breath-taking. I didn’t feel so much as I was reading it, but being taken on this harrowing journey with Denver and her friends, Dali and Shakira. My heart hurt for them from the very first page. There is so much optimism for escaping the lives they knew, only to be sucked into a nightmare. The complexity of parent-child relationships particularly resonated with me, with Denver showing enough maturity to reason with her parents, while they have their own plans for her. What makes this story so horrifying is just how self-aware Denver is from start to finish. Watching Merc pull her tighter into his circle, and the glimpses of messages not received were effective in giving a holistic portrayal of the trap Denver and her friends fell into.
Denver is a lesbian, and the way Charles presented her relationship with Dali both romantically and platonically was a shining ray of hope through all the ugliness. The female friendships in general were so powerful, showing the unbreakable bond that can be formed between girls, despite this all-too-powerful abuser trying to tear them apart. All the small details of how they interact in real life and via technology felt true to life, which makes the isolation later on in the story that much scarier.
Heartbreaking with clear parallels to stories of survivors of R. Kelly, this novel-in-verse pulls no punches while also depicting the power of female friendship and resilience.