Some books just sound like they’re going to be your kind of thing. I was offered a copy of this book and it just seemed like it would be right up my street. A YA novel with LGBTQ+ representation set in the glitzy music world and written by a musician. It had the potential to be something really interesting. I admit that YA isn’t my usual kind of thing but I’m always willing to give it a chance when it sounds good enough. As I’ve mentioned, it’s been taking me longer to finish books recently but I got a fair chunk of it finished on a train ride this weekend. Not in time for my usual Monday review but close enough.
Being born in 1988, I love a bit of 90s nostalgia. I admit that my experience of the 90s was very different to 18-year-old Kyla Bell’s. Kyla is a pianist and singer-songwriter from Massachusetts. She dreams of being a star but her father would much prefer she stay closer to home. So, when she gets the chance to join her favourite band Glitter Tears, Kyla must decide between her family and her future. If she agrees, Kyla has to drop out of school and move to LA for rock star training. Can this small-town girl make it in the big city? Or will she find herself out of her depth and going down a dark path?
Secret Rules to Being a Rockstar is certainly a captivating novel. It’s the classic story of a slightly sheltered girl being catapulted into the spotlight. Kyla is a sweet girl but has a lot to learn about life. She is figuring out who she is and where she fits into the world. Unfortunately for her, the people she meets in LA aren’t the best people to help her figure it out. Her mentor is Robert a man who is jaded and depressed after his recent marriage break-up. He encourages Kyla to join in on his self-destructive behaviour as he battles with his demons. Then there is Ruby Sky, the lead singer of Glitter Tears and Kyla’s hero. Ruby has plenty of personal troubles and mental health issues. She treats Kyla as a pet and continually leads her on.
Something that causes Kyla to confront her sexuality. This is one of the more interesting and important aspects of the book and I wish more time was spent on it. For me, this plot strange felt a bit rushed in places. Kyla doesn’t get much time to understand her sexuality and there are parts of the plot that just seem to get dropped. This side of the story doesn’t feel as though it got a strong enough ending. I’m all for open-ended books but some things deserve to have a bit more closure. Especially the way Kyla’s sexuality affects her relationships back home. For me, the novel doesn’t leave things in a very positive way. It might be for good reasons but I wasn’t happy when Kyla denied her true self towards the end of the novel.
There is also a lot of destructive behaviour on show here. I don’t think that is a bad thing per se but I would have preferred it to be more obviously condemned. Kyla is encouraged to starve herself, take up smoking to suppress her appetite, drink in excess and take whatever drugs she is offered. I understand that this is meant to be a behind-the-scenes of the music industry but there is only a couple of times when she is warned about the consequences of the lifestyle. There are times when her non-stop underage partying is glamourised. I would have preferred that the novel explore more of the consequences of this.
Overall, I think there was a lot to enjoy in this book and it is well-written. There is a lot of detail about the music scene and the 90s. Jessamyn Violet spends a lot of time describing the various fashion on show and the musical aspects of the book. She clearly knows what she’s talking about. There are plenty of people who will enjoy this and I think it’s a strong debut. I just don’t think that this was the book for me. The story was interesting but quickly turned into a bit of a cliche. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it actually had something important to say but there doesn’t seem to be a message here. There are no consequences to anything. The ending seems too perfect for everything we’ve just been through.