A former child star fights the conservatorship that is governing every aspect in her life and uses social media to help in the new novel from the author of The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes.
The world was shocked, but not surprised when pop princess Britney Spears had a very public crisis in 2007 that ultimately led to her being placed in a conservatorship controlled by her father for 13 years. Britney’s conservatorship ended recently in 2021 with the help of the #FreeBritney movement; however, due to Britney’s increasingly strange and erratic behavior post-conservatorship, spectators have begun to question whether the conservatorship was in fact warranted. Nickelodeon child star Amanda Bynes was in similar situation. She was placed under a conservatorship after she exhibited self-destructive behavior, and just last year petitioned the courts to bring it to an end. However, Amanda was recently found wandering the streets of LA naked and was thus placed on a psychiatric hold.
Many people would argue that both Britney and Amanda are in need of some protection, stability, and monitoring through conservatorships, but the real issue at the heart of these situations is, “What happened to these girls in their formative years to make conservatorships warranted in the first place?” Elissa R. Sloan explores this topic in her new novel Hayley Aldridge is Still Here, a story clearly inspired by the plight of Britney Spears and others like her. In this book, Hayley Aldridge, a hot commodity in Hollywood, literally grows up in the business, having started work very young on commercials before landing the TV show role that would define her life. As Hayley matures from a precocious six year old into a curious young woman, the things she has seen in Hollywood begin to take a toll on her, and she starts experimenting with substances, partying all hours of the night, and behaving promiscuously. Before she can even grasp what is happening, her turbulent behavior lands her in a conservatorship and life as she knew it is over.
In Hayley Aldridge is Still Here, Hayley tells her story to her 17 year old twin daughters, who are questioning why their mother can’t leave the grounds of her Hollywood mansion, why they can’t bring cell phones to her home, and why everyone is talking about her on the TV. Hayley brings them, and us, back through the years, exploring how her life, once brimming with possibility, was diminished to what it is now. Sloan expertly delves into issues of substance abuse, sexual harassment and abuse, and the hunger for money, power, and fame, as she shows how Hayley, and countless other young girls and boys, are exploited by the business, and often their own families, for self-serving reasons. To the outside world, being rich and famous often looks glamorous, but to many of those living it, it can only be described as hell.
Hayley Aldridge is Still Here is an engrossing tale of the horrors of Hollywood, and will especially be enjoyed by anyone who has followed Britney Spears’ conservatorship struggles through the years. Sloan is so adept at crafting a believable story, I often forgot that I was reading a book about a fictional character, and not in fact one of show business’s chewed up and spit out young starlets. She shows how the media spins stories about celebrities to suit their agenda, blowing situations out of proportion or painting them in a completely negative light, thus ruining lives.
The only issue I took with this book is that it primarily explored Hayley’s life pre-conservatorship, and showed us very little of what her days were like once she was locked down. I would have preferred the novel be split into two parts, going into detail both pre- and post-conservatorship. Also (mild spoilers ahead), while Sloan lightly touches on mental health and how it presents itself by the way of erratic behavior, she doesn’t confirm that Hayley does in fact have a disorder, much unlike that of Spears and Bynes who are clearly struggling outside of their conservatorships with some mental health issues. Hayley is primarily painted as a victim of the business, the media, and her parents, and while Hayley might have led a completely normal life if she hadn’t been launched into super stardom, nothing is really her fault, unlike the situations of some of her real-life peers. Sloan missed the opportunity to add some complexity to her novel by making Hayley out to be a blameless victim.
Highly recommended to fans of pop culture!
- Brooke, Public Relations Librarian