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Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Britney branches out
Britney Spears
Britney Spears co-wrote her debut novel with her mother
Britney was in the local record store the other day.

There she was: pearly white teeth, flowing golden locks, tanned arms peeping out of cotton pastels.

The only let-down - she was a cardboard cut-out.

This is much the problem which afflicts the first novel written by America's favourite prom queen Britney Spears and her mother, Lynne.

It is simplistically written, with one-dimensional characters and flimsy turns of plot.

A Mother's Gift tells the rags-to-riches story of a young girl who dreams of becoming a singer - and, surprise surprise, she does.

It is set in Biscay, Mississippi: an "itsy-bitsy little place", as the novel's sugary prose has it.

Britney shares the credit with her mother, Lynne
Holly's life is a mirror of Britney's own path to stardom

Holly, the 14-year-old heroine, lives with her single mother Wanda.

Once a week, they sit down together to watch The Haverty Talent Hour, a TV show featuring students from the nearby arts academy.

However, their evening in together does not take place on any old weekday.

As Holly implausibly tells her boyfriend when she says she's already booked on Friday night: her "big date is her mom".

The mother-daughter bond is one of the central themes of the novel, and is played out tenderly if a little heavy-handedly.

Wanda has a secret (her "gift") she is dreading revealing to Holly.

Eventually, she plucks up the courage, bringing her closer again to her daughter (and possibly a tear to the eye of the reader).

Less convincing are the scenes involving Holly as she starts her new life at Haverty.

A new student, lacking money and sophistication, she feels painfully out of place next to her rich bitch roommate, Ditz.

All seems set for some tough emotional soul-searching.

Easily resolved

Instead - like most of the moments of tension - it's worked through rather too easily and too quickly.

Within just a few pages, Ditz has switched from mocking Holly to going on holiday with her.

Quite how this all came about is barely sketched at all.

This is perhaps the most disappointing - and yet most revealing - aspect of the book.

Holly's life is a mirror of Britney's, who sang through childhood in small town Louisiana, before making it big aged 11 on Disney's The Mickey Mouse Club.

But the only authentic voice is of the mother. We never really get beneath Holly's perfectly tanned skin.

This book is billed as Britney's first outing as a novelist.

It is surely a mother's gift to her in more ways than one.

A Mother's Gift will be published in the UK in May.

See also:

24 Apr 01 | Reviews
A Mother's Gift: Your views
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