What happens when everyone on your 1990s TV show became a superstar — except you?
Britney. Justin. Christina. Ryan.
Sometimes a kids’ TV show is a launch pad for people who become so famous we can recognize them just by their first names.
But Sarah Skilton’s hilarious new road-trip novel Fame Adjacent tells the story of the opposite — Holly Danner, a former child star who has plunged back into obscurity while her costars from the 1990s-era hit have all ascended to icon status.
If she’s remembered at all, it’s as the one who went nowhere.
The novel by Skilton (best known for the boos Club Deception and Bruised) made EW’s Must List when it debuted, and follows Holly as she decides to reclaim the spotlight after discovering she has been snubbed from her old show’s upcoming reunion.
She has spent so much time online, gossiping and reading about her old castmates, that she has entered “internet rehab,” but decides to break free from the treatment center with another patient, Thom Parker, when she learns about the snub.
They set off on a cross-country trip with no money and not much of a plan, but one goal in mind:
Baby, remember her name…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What kind of show was Holly on back in the ’90s? I know it’s a fictional one, but did a real program inspire it?
SARAH SKILTON: [It’s] that ’90s vibe of Saved by the Bell, The Mickey Mouse Club, and some more recent ones, like Kidz Bop, which is basically where they take popular songs and clean them up so there’s no swearing and nothing suggestive. But the ’90s is still probably my favorite decade pop-culture-wise, just because it was so formative for me.
The All-New Mickey Mouse Club from that era really did catapult the careers of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera…
The Mickey Mouse Club loosely inspired it, because what would it be like to have worked with Britney and Justin and Christina, and Keri Russell and Ryan Gosling and all those people, and then just watch as they became these global superstars? It’s not like some people know who they are; everybody on earth knows who Britney Spears is.
What made you focus on the one who is famous for not being famous?
I was always curious about what that would feel like. How you would sort of continue your life from that point on, when you see this person that you grew up with in the tabloids every time you go to the grocery store? How would that manifest itself in your life? And what kind of life would you have after that? Which sounds kind of deep. The book’s actually a romantic comedy and a road trip.
We talk about people like that almost in mournful terms, or pitiful terms. Like, “Oh, she was a big hit on this show for a while, but then whatever happened to her?”
I think it’s because we assume that nobody would willingly give up fame, that they’ll just cling to it to their last breath no matter what form it takes. But there’s a lot of people who actually just decide to leave the business.
It’s like, why would you leave this dream?
And the money, and the attention, and all that stuff that goes along with it. Although I think so much bad stuff goes along with it, too.
Holly Danner doesn’t necessarily leave fame willingly.
That’s true. She wishes that she had. [Laughs] She wishes that she had the wherewithal to say, you know, “Goodbye forever, Hollywood. Have fun shattering people.” But she actually tries her hardest to stay in the game. And she has a couple near-misses.
Real life isn’t any kinder to her.
Eventually she just kind of runs out of money and decides to go back to college as a twentysomething. And she’s the oldest freshman in her dorm. But then family drama intervenes and kind of pulls her out of college as well. She ends up helping her sister raise her niece. And that definitely pulls her out of the game.
And then, suddenly, she’s forgotten.
Before she knows it, another 10 years have passed, and it’s time for the 25th anniversary reunion of her show, and she’s not invited. And she’s livid. She goes off the deep end and decides she’s going to crash this reunion because, you know, “How dare they not invite me. How dare they try to erase me from this part of my life. I may have peaked as a human at age 11, they can’t pretend it didn’t happen.” So she’s determined to disrupt the anniversary somehow.
Is it because she kind of is a drag for them now? She’s kind of a painful reminder of one who got left behind.
They’ve all had a falling-out with her because they kind of used her in the past as their refuge. If they had to escape the paparazzi or the tabloid intrusions into their lives, they would hide out at her family’s house. And so they had a friendship that kind of went off the rails because she felt it was very lopsided. But that goes into sort of her frustration with not being invited after all these years. She figured they would at least vouch for her.
It seems like part of her quest is to just prove she still exists to the world, even though she’s the only one with a normal existence.
In their weird view, they kind of think she’s the lucky one a little bit, which is kind of obnoxious of them. [Laughs]
Why would they snub her? It’s so mean.
Right? I know. It’s so mean.
This Q&A was edited with context added from an interview on EW Radio’s Behind the Scenes. You can hear the full conversation today at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.