‘Honey’ Is the Debut Novel Every Millennial Needs in Their Beach Bag

The dark side of pop superstardom

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honey isabel banta book review
cover: celadon books; background: getty images

I was born in 1991, meaning I’m no stranger to the chokehold pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera had on the world. (I’ve been to three Britney concerts and will root for her until the day I die.) Like many millennial women, I’ve also been disgusted, if not entirely surprised, by the revelations over the last number of years about the treatment of these stars at the hands of the industry, the media and the general public. If the rise of ‘90s/’00s pop girls and the belated public reckoning with the abuses they suffered intrigues you as much as it does me, I highly recommend Honey, a debut novel by Brooklyn-based writer Isabel Banta.

The story starts in 1997 with 16-year-old Amber Young, who has just gotten the opportunity of a lifetime: a spot in Cloud9, an up-and-coming girl group in Los Angeles that promises to catapult her to superstardom…but not without bumps, sacrifices and betrayals along the way. While Cloud9 doesn’t reach Beatles-esque levels of popularity, it does connect Amber to Gwen Morris, a fellow member who encourages Amber to go solo and remains a close friend, despite ups and downs that are reminiscent of the Britney/Christina/Justin drama.

Told mostly in Amber’s first person voice, Honey charts her rise to fame, fortune and glamour, plus the troublesome stuff—the exploitation, the slut shaming, the pitting of women against each other—going on behind-the-scenes. Just a year after the publication of Spears’s memoir, The Woman in Me, Banta’s promising debut comes at the perfect time, exploring the hypersexualization of young women in the entertainment industry, double standards and unfair power dynamics, but also the power of female friendships and perseverance. In addition to the buzzy, conversation-starting themes explored, Banta is also simply a damn good writer, exploring the chokehold that exposure and talent can have on an impressionable young person. Years before her career takes off, Amber, singing Taylor Dane’s “Tell It to My Heart” into a hairbrush realizes, “when I let myself sing, I understand the purpose of gods…Something I can’t name moves inside me; something finally magnetizes.”

For fans of Daisy Jones & the Six and A Visit from the Goon Squad, Honey is an exciting read about the dark side of fame, early aughts pop culture and the transition from girlhood to womanhood.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...