Alas, I am here to review the final book in the Shooting Stars mini-series, Falling Stars. Cinnamon, Ice, Rose and Honey finally have a chance at fulfilling their dreams in the Senetsky School of Peforming Arts. While I can’t say that it’s exactly been a ride, I’m excited to delve into this last adventure that actually takes place in a proper V.C. Andrews setting.
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE — BUT WHAT IF THE PLAY DOESN’T GO AS PLANNED?
Four talented girls from vastly different pasts share a dream of stardom: Cinnamon, the edgy actress; Ice, the phenomenal vocalist; Rose, the beautiful dancer; and Honey, the first-rate violinist. The four meet at the prestigious Senetsky School of the Performing Arts — housed in an ornate New York City mansion — and become instant friends as they take off on a dazzling whirlwind of intense classes, theater outings, and celebrity-studded parties.
But they soon realize this is no ordinary school. Madame Senetsky pushes the girls’ studies beyond reason. She controls their social lives. And they get the strange feeling someone is watching them. But who… and why?
Cinnamon, Ice, Rose, and Honey set out to untangle a shadowy web of Senetsky family secrets. As they explore dark corners and hidden rooms, every creak and moan of the old mansion tells a story too frightening to repeat. A devastating story that can destroy their dreams…
About the Book
Unlike the other books in the Shooting Stars series, this one has the classic V.C. Andrews keyhole and step-back cover (one of the last that the V.C. Andrews brand featured before the keyhole was done with due to expense). This one’s a great gem because it features not one, but THREE KEYHOLES! Flip the cover open and it reveals the four girls. I can recognize Ice and Cinnamon on the left, but I’ve no idea who the girls on the right are, because neither of them resemble the illustrations of Rose and Honey on the covers of their books. In the middle are two characters, a blonde-haired woman and a fair-haired man (Gerta and Edmond, but we’ll get to that).
Falling Stars is narrated exclusively by Honey, who is probably the most boring of the four girls in the series. While boring, I suppose her voice does ring the V.C. Andrews narration style the best. Honestly, I feel that Rose would have made a better narrator, as many incidents happen to Rose in this book and readers don’t get to experience those incidents though her perspective.
My Copy of Falling Stars
I got my copy of Falling Stars from a used book store and was fortunate to find one in good condition (for a mass-market paperback, that is). The front cover has some slight creases and the keyhole is slightly damaged, but overall the book is in good shape. There’s a faint spine crease. The pages are still crisp and white. To be honest, I felt bad folding down the corners of pages with quotes I’d planned on featuring in this review.
This book is a bit of a mess because Honey doesn’t just tell her own story, but also the past and current tales of the other three girls in the series. It’s Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants in a New York estate house and but told through the lamest character. BUT, how does this hold up to the V.C. Andrews formula?
An Innocent & Pretty, Yet Completely Naive Female Protagonist
Once again, we’re living life with Honey, the Ohio farm-girl who started dating a dude but got all freaked out because her ultra-religious grandfather wasn’t chill with it. I do wonder if Neiderman framed Falling Stars through her perspective because she’s the only character who hasn’t lived in an urban setting and hasn’t had much experience beyond her farm life.
Still, though? Her flashback “trauma” from the farm barely haunts her. Chandler visits once and they have sex in her room, which is against the rules. Then Honey stupidly goes to this hot dude’s apartment to listen to music (and he OF COURSE tries to rape her). Memories of Grandad Forman condemning for her sinful desires come rearing their ugly head. Fortunately, big city life keeps Honey’s paranoia at bay.
Here’s a little snippet of Honey’s very limited perspective of their girl squad:
We were truly becoming sisters, looking after each other. We were really becoming a team. Each of us lent something to the others, I thought. Cinnamon was our wit. Ice our muscle. Rose our beautiful face. And me? I was our conscience.
Man, what a backhand at Rose. Also, Ice really falls into the background in this book. She makes a lot of out-of-characters quips but that’s about it. Also of note is that Cinnamon is referenced to have black hair and heavy (goth) makeup, which doesn’t match her appearance on her book cover.
A Vivid Gothic Setting
The Senetsky School is a large Chateauesque mansion in the middle of New York City, likened to that of the Vanderbilt Mansion. Laura Fairchild, who is Madame Senetsky’s personal assistant, gives Honey and her parents the tour of the three-floor mansion.
The school itself is on the house’s main floor. Student bedrooms (large and elaborate) are on the second. The third floor holds the mysterious costume room, and also the wing of the house where Madame Senetsky lives. Laura Fairchild tells the students that they are NEVER TO GO THERE FOR FEAR OF GETTING KICKED OUT OF THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD.
Honey’s dad, specifically, gawks at the home’s fortress-like appearance, mentioning its gates, bars and — we’ll get back to this later — video security. Shortly after Honey’s parents leave, Honey meets a fellow student, Steven (who dresses like your standard emo kid in 2001) but is a piano God, apparently. Steven pounds on the wall of her bedroom and explains that sound can’t travel in the house. They then move about the student rooms and meet Cinnamon, Ice, Rose, and another boy, Howard, an arrogant actor convinced of his greatness who I could only picture one way:
A Hostile Maternal Figure (+ Bonus Mean Girl!)
When the students meet Madame Senetsky the first time, they’re given “behavior contracts” to sign. They’re forbidden from going out late and drinking and participating in unsavory activities (ie. boning). They’re to dress appropriately and not make the Senetsky school look bad, otherwise they’ll be kicked out immediately.
Later one, after discovering that Honey’s got a serious boyfriend, Madame Senetsky gets all creepy with Honey, telling her to save her virginity (she can tell Honey’s a virgin just by looking at her) because virginity is power. For some reason, she never gets this angry at Rose for dating Barry.
Despite all this, Madame Senetsky isn’t seen other than to give the students the odd three-page lecture on what life in show-business is like.
The legit mean girl in this book is Laura Fairchild, who’s always there to just add a snipe-y comment or two, but she’s never around to actually fall through when the girls sneak around the house.
The girls soon discover that somebody’s out there on the fire escape at night, spying on Rose and Honey and stealing their clothes. The girls attempt to have numerous sleepover reconnaissance missions to get to the bottom of it. They soon realize that whoever is stealing their clothes lives in the forbidden upstairs area of the house.
At first they think that it’s Edmond Senetsky, who Madame Senetsky’s adult son, but upon climbing the fire escape ladder and peering into the window into the forbidden suite, they discover that the man is actually a woman covering her chest with a bandage, Mulan-style.
A Tragic Death
In the scene where Madame Senetsky gets all weird with Honey’s virginity, Madame Senetsky also reveals to Honey that she had a daughter who died. This information isn’t exactly public knowledge, so Rose emails her brother Evan (who the book constantly needs to remind you is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair) to do some SERIOUS cyber-sleuthing.
“This was one of the hardest, most difficult searches I’ve undertaken through the Internet,” Evan began. “Roadways into places I had to get to were blocked with passwords I didn’t have time to break. I had to figure out ways to get around and come in back doors.”
Evan tells them that Madame Senetsky married late in life to a man named Marshall Senetsky. Though they rarely spent much time together during their marriage (Madame was a big star at the time), they still had two children, Edmond, and Gerta. Little is known of Gerta, save for the fact that she was admitted to a clinic for disturbed children in Switzerland at the age of 14. Evan finds news of her death in a newspaper clipping.
So it’s a death, but not really a death, because it’s Gerta that’s living upstairs and it’s Gerta that’s on the step-back cover! Mystery solved! The girls take to leave his hotel room, but not without another nod to the fact that Evan’s in a wheelchair:
“Is there anything you need before we go?”
“No, I’m fine here. As you can see,” he said, gesturing toward the bathroom, “it’s all designed for the disabled.”
“You’re far less disabled than most of the boys I know,” Cinnamon told him, which brought a smile back to his tired face.
Like, I know it’s 2001 here, but being a person with a disability is not Evan’s character quirk. He’s a potential misogynist and will probably be doxxing girls like Cinnamon in about 15 years. Just wait and see.
A Beloved Doting Paternal Figure
The girls decide to throw all fucks to the wind and climb into Gerta’s third-floor prison cell to discover that she’s a grown-as woman with the mind of a 7-year old. The first night they play some creepy kids’ games with some equally-creepy rhymes. The next night she’s dressed as a man to escape her “feminine” self, and she tells the girls in third-person about her father, Marshall and exactly just the kind of man he was:
“He made her his Gerta Berta. When she had nightmares and she went to him, he showed her how to forget them, but that wasn’t nice. Her body lied again. Her body thought it was nice.”
Gerta has an abundance of men’s clothing because Laura Fairchild and Madame Senetsky refuse to buy her woman’s clothes. Sometimes she takes the dresses in the costume room (through a secret door, the key to which is hung up beside the door from the school side), but if she doesn’t put them back, Laura Fairchild cuts her hair off.
Nearly being discovered, the girls sneak out the window and Laura Fairchild locks it behind them, cutting off their access to Gerta.
There’s some off-the-page incest and that’s about it. But if we wanna get to some messed-up sex, we only need to read a bit further to the part where Howard takes notice of the girls’ hushed whispering. Cinnamon (the leader of the group) tells him that Honey’s out cheating on Chandler with some other guy, but even Howard sees past her “acting”.
The girls eventually give up the secret and Howard goes up with them during their next visit to Gerta’s suite, this time through the secret door in the costume room. Gerta’s starts reciting lines from Shakespeare plays by heart, and Howard is shocked at her knowledge and wants to stick around.
The next time the girls visit, they find Howard leaving the room. They enter the room and find Gerta naked in her bed. So not only is Howard a great actor, he’s also an abuser of the psychologically traumatized.
Some Good Olde School Misogyny
As I mentioned before, there’s a scene were the girls go out with Rose’s boyfriend Barry and a few of Barry’s friends. One of those friends is a guy named Tony, who Honey claims is really attractive. Attractive enough to make her forget about her “serious boyfriend” Chandler so she can go and check out his surround sound speaker in his apartment that overlooks the East River.
Now, the readers all see it coming, but Tony gets Honey a drink and tries to get her to stick around even though she’s pretty clearly uncomfortable and unimpressed. He gets her onto the patio so she can check out the view. Then this happens:
I guess my eyes brightened, and that encouraged him enough for him to take the liberty of bringing his lips to mine before I could even prepare for a kiss. It wasn’t a long kiss, just a smack on the mouth, more like a firecracker.
“Sorry, but I had to do that,” he said. “You look so fresh. Hope you’re not mad.”
She isn’t at first. She tries to tell him that she doesn’t want the Bloody Mary he forces her to drink. He then tries to take advantage of her “freshness” with his spider hands (Andrew Neiderman’s favourite visual for sex scenes!). She eventually nuts him in the elevator and heads back to the school.
I’ll admit there isn’t much misogyny except for the strange infatuation with Rose and her beauty. Rose, perhaps the most undeserving of the school kids, didn’t even need to audition for her place in the Senetsky School. She’s not even a classically-trained dancer. Legit, a fucking high school teacher taught her all she knows. She got into the Senetsky School because Edmond Senetsky is allowed to permit one person into the school on sight, and yeah, he chose the beautiful and magical and most Mary-Sue character ever, Rose.
Howard makes fun of Rose for this, but the girls stick up for her. Oddly enough, the whole “Edmond Senetsky” plot doesn’t really go anywhere. He appears once or twice and creepily looks at Rose, but nothing further is made of this, despite being a noted part of the book early on.
Near the end of the book, once again, Rose is somehow the magical solution to all of Evan’s woes in his pitiful crippled life. In her summary of Rose’s background and character, Honey says this:
“Ironicaly, however, all this brought Rose closer to her handicapped brother, and together they found a way for her to develop her dancing talent and defeat Charlotte’s revenge. A child of betrayals, Rose cold never betray Evan’s efforts, for he saw his own validation in her successes.”
WTF?! Like why is she some kind of vessel for Evan? I hate this. I hate it so much.
A Rags to Riches Plot
While the girls get to live in a fancy mansion, it doesn’t do much for their situations back at home at home:
Honey: Her parents keep running a farm and her dad owns a Lincoln Towncar now.
Ice: Her mother leaves her father and never returns. (Yay!)
Rose: Her mother meets a new dude and marries him in Vegas.
Cinnamon: Her dad still has a pacemaker.
At the book’s finale, the girls sneak Gerta onto the stage of the big final Performance Night in front of all the big-wig agents, managers and producers. Gerta takes the place of Cinnamon in a Shakespeare scene with Howard and Madame Senetsky is forced to face the impact of locking her own daughter away.
Howard the rapist is kicked out of the school (but not sent to jail, because of course) and everyone else gets a potential lead to a future of fame, which, if recent years and the #metoo movement have proved anything, will not be all that bright for women in the entertainment industry.
Some Really Bad Writing
I’ll start by citing my qualms with a common thing that happens in this book. One character says something stupid (usually one of the boys), and one the girls makes a lame quip. Then they all laugh. Example:
“Where’s Howard?” Steven asked, following.
“Probably stuck on his face in the mirror,” Cinnamon said.
Rose and Ice laughed harder than I did.
This happens MULTIPLE TIMES. I realize that girls are gonna gab but listening to this same dialogue formula over and over really gave off some hardcore sitcom vibes.
One common V.C. Andrews gimmick is over-writing, and boy oh boy does this book have a lot of examples of that. In this scene, Honey first gets a taste of Steven’s sweet piano SKILLZ, there’s even some Stephanie Meyer thesaurus abuse:
His fingers floated over the keys as if they each has a mind of their own, and when he played, all the impishness in his face, all his lackadaisical expression disappeared. It was truly a wonder to watch is body metamorphose into someone so different from the carefree boy I was getting to know away from the piano. The instrument, the notes he played invaded his body and even his soul.
Relax, Honey. He’s not like Chilly Gonzales or anything. I’m just saying that you haven’t seen a guy play piano until you’ve seen a guy sweat buckets over a piano while wearing slippers and a luxury bathrobe.
Another V.C. Andrews staple is the overwritten passage WITH an extended metaphor. There are plenty of examples in this book, but here’s one of my faves where Honey’s doing her last performance in the book:
I raised my bow and the music came, as it always did. I played as if I was trying to keep Death himself at bay. I could charm the devil. It was almost as if the violin was truly connected to my very soul. I didn’t think about it. I was like a tightrope walker who never looked down, but just kept his eyes forward, his concentration fixed to the goal, the finale, but I did sense how well I was playing. I could feel every note.
I honestly don’t understand how people read this stuff without the eye-roll. Now, instead of feeling Honey in her happy place, I’m just thinking about that Nathan For You episode (that I couldn’t get a GIF or a video of) where he disguises himself as an overweight man so he can walk across a tightrope to both impress a girl he met online while also raising money for breast cancer. I’m not even thinking of Honey or her music at all.
Fantastic Psychological Horror
Honestly, in light of everything, Neiderman did a decent job of piecing a V.C. Andrews plot together within the confines of the “mini-series” setup. I doubt many V.C. Andrews fans really like the mini-series formula all that much. I think it held up to some degree. That said, most of the revelations and shock and awe didn’t come until the later portions of the book, so the bulk of it (about three quarters) was just about some teenagers in a school.
Mediocre, at best.
My Final Rating
This book didn’t exactly get decent until the second half when the plot finally kicked in. There’s a lot of teenage banter, the standard girl talk scenes, some romance scenes, etc. It’s all standard 2001 young adult lit. (I am aware that mid-2000s V.C. Andrews books catered more toward teenagers than adults, so a lot of the more shocking elements were tamed down quite a bit to appeal to a younger audience.
Gerta’s the focus of the cover, though and I really feel like this book could have been something along the lines of Flowers in the Attic were it told from Gerta’s perspective. I mean, we don’t even get to find out what exactly happens to her after that show she’s thrown into. Madame Senetsky affirms that “changes will be made immediately” but we’ve no idea where Gerta goes or who takes care of her.
It’s troubling, to say the least. I also fail to understand how the girls managed to sneak around the mansion so much when the gates and bars and security were so prominently mentioned. And why was Gerta so freely able to sneak out of her portion of the house?