Stars in Your Eyes by Kacen Callendar
LGBTQ+, Contemporary Romance
Oct 10, 2023
Review by Kate H.
The contours of Stars in Your Eyes will be a bit familiar if you read a lot of Hollywood (or rock star or celebrity) romances. Fake dating goes with this territory like butter on bread. And recently, several romances have spilled ink on the darker side of being a celebrity: the exploitation of minors by their parents or predatory directors/producers/agents; blackmail, rape, toxic relationships, and maladaptive coping strategies. Stars in Your Eyes is a thoughtful romance that examines the effects of those occupational hazards on the lives and relationships of two men.
In Stars in Your Eyes, Kacen Callendar pairs two actors who appear to have nothing in common. Mattie is an eager to please actor, a newcomer who just won an award that has put him on the map. He is nervous and has a bit of an imposters syndrome as he takes on the role of the love interest in a gay romcom, opposite Logan, who has both a reputation as an actor and as an asshole. Even though he seems to have a lot of power when we first meet him, we come to learn that his career is in the balance, which is where we get to the fake dating scenario. Logan needs to launder his image, and the film needs some added publicity to compete with another gay romcom being filmed.
This book deals with a lot of trauma and is pretty straight on. Logan has a past and present that have made him the prickly, defensive man he is. And even Mattie, who seems in some ways too good, has his own issues: a supportive mother but a homophobic father whose rejection looms large in his life. But there is also the trauma of racism that Callendar introduces gradually but clearly in the first quarter of the book. Both men are light-skinned blacks and fully aware of the privilege that affords them in Hollywood. Living in that in-between space and the questions it raises is part of their careers.
I think that Callendar handles the traumas centered in this book with a careful and well-educated approach. My only complaint is that at some point the dialogue, particularly Mattie’s lines, comes out sounding more like therapy language than actual conversation. To some extent we can excuse Mattie – he is an avid consumer of self-help podcasts. But at the same time, I think he would still speak like himself, just informed by what he has learned.
The HEA/HFN in this book is hard-won. It actually felt like a lot of work (and tears) on my part – I was only a reader. So I would advise people to heed not only the content warnings, but realize that this is a book in which the main characters don’t slide together easily for the happy ending, but rather slog for it.