It is 1997 and Amber Young is about to become one of the most infamous stars of her era… Isabel Banta’s debut dives headfirst into the heady world of turn-of-the-millennium pop music and culture, following the rise to fame and fortunes of her pop protagonist.
A Y2K era coming of age story for fans of Emma Cline’s The Girls and Taylor Jenkins Reid, Honey is a stunning portrait of lasting female friendship, the manipulations of the media and music industry, and the dark side of fame.
We handed the mic to Isabel and asked her a few questions about her debut hit Honey.


By Isabel Banta

More info
Buy options
Go To Store

Tell us about Honey – what can readers expect?

Honey is a coming-of-age novel about a pop star in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Readers will get to know Amber as her star rises – they will see her hopes, her insecurities, her ambition — and I hope they will cheer for her along the way.

Can you sum up the book in a song lyric?

“All the pieces of me shattered as the crowd was chanting, ‘More’” (from “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” by Taylor Swift).

It’s a brilliant portrait of early 00s pop culture. Why did you want to write about this period, and what are your own memories of the time?

I was interested in this era because there was so much hypocrisy in the media, and the interiority of these pop stars was largely ignored. Girl power was in vogue, but the treatment of female celebrities was anything but empowering. I wanted to know what it might have felt like for a girl to become a celebrity in such a brutal time – and I wanted to give that character space to grow into herself without being judged for her mistakes. As for my own memories, I was pretty young, but I had Britney’s self-titled album and absolutely loved it. I also loved Mandy Moore and Hilary Duff.

Amber’s sexuality – both real and perceived – and the way that her sex life becomes public property is a big theme throughout. How important was it for you to expose the pressures and hypocrisy of the time?

Amber is told about her sexual value from a young age, and she has trouble distinguishing her true self from the image of herself placed upon her by others. It was really important for me to show how crushing it must have been to be defined in such a limiting way. A huge part of Amber’s character arc is learning to own her sexuality as well as define it on her own terms. 

As a writer, it must have been so much fun mimicking the press reporting from the era. The Rolling Stone profile that opens the book is spot on…

It was so much fun! I did a lot of research and read a lot of articles from the era to get that tone right. 

You must have had an amazing writing playlist for this one… Can you tell us what you were listening to during the writing process?

So much! *NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, Britney, Christina, Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, TLC, Destiny’s Child, to name a few!

How did you find writing the lyrics to the songs? That must have exercised a very different writing muscle… Any pop aspirations of your own?

 honestly didn’t put too much pressure on myself writing the songs and just had fun with it, especially those at the beginning of Amber and her best friend Gwen’s careers, because I don’t think the lyrics are *the* key to good music from that era. In fact, a lot of the lyrics from popular songs of the era don’t make a ton of sense, haha! It was important to me to have Amber progress with her own songwriting and find empowerment in it as the book goes on, so I wanted the latter songs to reflect her more. “Sweat” is definitely no lyrical masterpiece – and that’s on purpose!

Finally, I’m keen to get your take on the pop scene today – the landscape, particularly around female stars, seems to be in a very different place. What would a Honey set in the present day look like?

 I do think women are still pitted against each other in the music industry – a recent example is Sabrina Carpenter and Olivia Rodrigo. Today I’ve been listening to Lorde and Charli XCX’s new collab “The girl, so confusing version with Lorde”. That feels very Gwen and Amber coded to me. I think they’d definitely release something similar together.

Isabel Banta’s Honey is published by Zaffre. Get your copy here.