The sweetest torture is knowing that there is a second season of Starstruck, Rose Matafeo’s genderswapped Notting Hill dramedy, but that it doesn’t have a U.S. premiere date yet. While we wait to find out what happens to average-gal Jessie and movie-star Tom after last season’s small-yet-grand romantic gesture, the next best thing is sinking into a contemporary romance. Even better if it’s one that encapsulates the utter, ridiculous, unexpected joy of Starstruck’s morning-after “Return of the Mack” dance sequence in book form.
Just like how Matafeo reversed the script with Starstruck, these seven love stories reimagine the famous person/normal person pairing from inside the Hollywood—and Bollywood, and telenovela—machine. From actors to the journalists who profile them to the fans who write their characters into fanfic, each interpretation has a distinctive take on the ultimate fantasy.
While both of the onscreen lovers in Daria’s telenova-set romance are actors, each comes to Carmen in Charge with different agendas: soapy ingenue Jasmine Lin Rodriguez is trying to put a humiliating breakup-via-tabloid behind her, while telenovela legend Ashton Suarez wants to stay out of gossip to protect someone far more vulnerable. But just like Jesse and Tom, they find their chemistry tested at various situations that throw them together—though these usually involve a hot script and the on-set intimacy coordinator making sure that they establish boundaries even as they act out the charged relationship between Carmen and her ex-husband Victor.
Jasmine’s adherence to her Leading Lady formula both speaks to Jessie being forced to stand up for herself even in the most cringeworthy encounters with Tom and his costar-turned-lover, as well as Tom’s own struggles with being taken seriously as a leading man.
Just like how Starstruck season 1 takes place over twelve months, from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Eve, Sussman’s adult debut occupies a similarly recognizable timeframe: the pivotal three-day weekend of a journalist profiling a star. But here, it happens twice: First, ten years ago, Chani Horowitz has the professional and personal dream of spending three days with her movie-star crush Gabe Parker, writing a magazine piece that launches both of their careers. In the present, his people want to recreate that piece for nostalgia’s sake—but doing so will unearth questions about what really happened between interviewer and subject.
Journalists often get to inhabit this liminal space where their professional obligation brings them into brief, charged intimacy with performers meant to embody everyone’s fantasy. Writing a good profile means striking up a romance novel-style “chemistry at first sight” dynamic. But, unlike the Jessies of the world, they are under intense scrutiny to keep everything by-the-book. Which is what makes Sussman’s novel so delightful to sink into, with excerpts from the piece in question as well as Chani’s retellings of what it was really like.
While Dev’s debut A Bollywood Affair has a normal woman becoming the unexpected muse to a Bollywood director, her second Bollywood-set novel really strikes that sweet spot mimicking the appeal of Starstruck and the other books on this list: the splendor of stardom tempered by the reality of fitting two differently-sized lives together.
Bollywood superstar Ria Parkar is only as good as her ability to avoid getting caught in a career-ending scandal. But when she returns to Chicago for a cousin’s wedding, she must confront Vikram Jathar, the man she turned on in order to become the ice princess of the silver screen. It’s not unlike Tom grappling with the comforts, however shallow, of his movie-star life because it’s easier than being emotionally vulnerable with Jessie or putting in the effort of meeting somewhere in the middle. Ria and Vik must do the same if they’re going to have a second-chance romance worthy of the big screen.
A genderswapped take on one of my personal favorite romance movies, Center’s forthcoming summer read promises a delightful premise with seeming himbo Jack Stapleton requiring protection from a middle-aged stalker—and demure Hannah Brooks, with her kindergarten-teacher vibe, as the best woman for the job of protecting this vulnerable star. But when the reclusive Jack has to come home to help take care of his sick mom, he doesn’t want anyone to know about the stalker or the bodyguard… and so instead he needs a fake girlfriend. Stars—they’re just like us!
Cue Hannah taking on an entirely unimaginable aspect of her job, as the kind of girl that a Hollywood hunk would bring home to his humble family. There are so many layers here for the “normal” member of the pair to parse, from feeling “good enough” in one regard to knowing she’s the only person who can actually protect his life, that it will no doubt hit all of the complicated feelings from Starstruck—that is, all the reasons not to fully buy into the celebrity romance.
If the will-they-won’t-they tension in Starstruck season 1 made you twitchy wanting to see Jessie and Tom kiss (again) already, you’ll appreciate this Hollywood romance from genre mainstay Guillory.
Advertising executive Ben has his shit together a bit more than Jessie, but even he is out of his depth with dazzling movie star Anna Gardiner, the famous face of his firm’s latest campaign. Despite the fact that they are both beautiful and charming people, where they actually connect is when Ben winds up unexpectedly helping Anna with a family emergency. But can their love survive the spotlight, especially when it means that Ben won’t be the most brilliant one in the room? Guillory explores the humbling nature of dating a star while contemplating why so many actors find their soulmates outside of the biz.
To make things even better, Guillory has shared her playlist for the book on Spotify There’s no “Return of the Mack” on it, but Rihanna, Lizzo, and *NSYNC should do the trick.
Dade’s homage to Game of Thrones and its passionate fanbase smartly and sensitively incorporates online fandom into the escapism of a Hollywood romance, demonstrating how the sphere inhabited by “normal people” can influence something as massive as the canon of a wildly popular fantasy television series.
In Spoiler Alert, actor Marcus Caster-Rupp both plays the hunky TV god Aeneas on Gods of the Gates and posts in online forums under the moniker Book!AeneasWouldNever. But when a fellow fan named April goes viral for her plus-size cosplay of his on-screen alter ego’s love interest Lavinia, Marcus steps up and asks her on a date as part PR stunt, part genuine care… only for him to learn that April is actually his online bestie Unapologetic Lavinia Stan. Thankfully that doubly uneven dynamic doesn’t last long, as the majority of the book is concerned with the divide between how one imagines a character, or a fantasy, and reconciling with the reality.
All the Feels expands the universe, following two characters from the prior book: Marcus’ impulsive co-star Alexander Woodroe, better known as Cupid; and Lauren Clegg, ER therapist-turned-babysitter for volatile actors who can’t stop themselves from getting into bar fights. Of course, weathering scandals brings them closer together, but so does Lauren’s discovery that Alex, inspired by Marcus, has started writing fanfiction for his own character—a sign of how he engages with the show more than anyone ever imagined. In Dade’s world, any fan can become a star, and any star can be a fan.
Natalie Zutter is a Brooklyn-based playwright and pop culture critic whose work has appeared on Tor.com, NPR Books, Den of Geek, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @nataliezutter.