Book Review: Under the Lights

Posted July 3, 2015 by Bekka in book review / 3 Comments

Book Review: Under the LightsUnder the Lights by Dahlia Adler
Series: Daylight Falls #2
Published by Spencer Hill Contemporary on June 30th, 2015
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 284
Format: eARC
Source: Author

Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents' wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls...opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he's trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he's in the spotlight—on everyone's terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.

Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents' disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she's painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van's life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she'll have to choose between the one thing she's always loved...and the person she never imagined she could.

First sentence: Either my best friend or my assistant is about to punch me in the face.

Under the Lights will easily be a go-to recommendation for me whenever I see anyone looking for some f/f romance. This book does so many things right – and brings the feels – I just want to shout about it and tell ALL my friends about it and make everyone read it. It was so much fun and this book has so much heart. I can’t make it clear enough how much you are all going to love this.

emily kiss

I’ve never read a Hollywood romance before (that I can remember anyway) and I didn’t think it would be for me. By all accounts, this isn’t the type of thing I normally reach for; in fact, I just wrote all about how lighter books aren’t my thing. But Under the Lights kind of whacked me in the face with how wrong I was. THIS is the kind of fluffy, fun book I’ve been dreaming about. These are the kinds of squee, feel-good, giddy feelings all my friends have been going on about for ages. There’s a perfect balance here that I think is important if I’m going to enjoy a straight(gay)-up romance. More is happening outside of the heroine and her love interest: there are budding friendships, growing friendship, new and scary career choices, and the bone-crushing weight of growing up. Van has all these things bearing down on her – she’s discovering her sexuality, she’s fighting an industry that actively pushes women of color to its fringes, and she has her own family’s expectations of her. These things helped tame the sugary sweetness of the book in a way that was vital for my enjoyment.

I admit that I did not like Josh in the beginning. He’s that quintessential bad boy from head to toe. He parties and he drinks and he’s crude and pervy. He’s kind of shitty to all the women around him and he even calls Van “K-drama.” He’s not the most likable guy out there, and I even skipped a few of his chapters because I wasn’t here for his spoiled rich boy broodiness. Or his gross comments about every female character that crossed the pages. But you know what? I am so glad I went back to reading his parts because I ended up loving him to pieces. He has so much growing up to do and while all the people around him are doing just that, he’s kind of dragging his heels. But his unexpected friendship with Van gave him the kick in the ass he needed. He kept all of his Joshness that makes him who he is, but he learned to stop taking the things and people and opportunities around him for granted. His relationship with Van was especially feelsy because I am so here for the hate-to-love platonic friendship arc.

As much I ended up loving Josh’s story, Van really stole the show here. Even though she’s this famous actress working on a mega-hit show, and she’s dating a famous musician, I still felt so much of what she was going through. She clearly has to deal with things like paparazzi, or Hollywood being a basically hostile environment for a young Korean-American actress – these are things I will never have to face. But she’s also dealing with her conservative parents breathing down her neck and pressuring her to find a more sensible career path. Her best friend, Ally, has moved away for college which is something I think we’ve all been through. And any girl who likes girls has had to deal with the consequence of that. Van’s struggles were just so authentic, I felt a real connection to this character and a real investment in seeing her happy ending.

You guys. This. Romance. You want to talk about swoony love interests? Well, let’s talk about Bri. Bri is this gorgeous tattooed redhead bisexual girl with this ultra-cool free spirit attitude who also masks a lot of subtle insecurities under her tough exterior. She’s confident and sure in what she wants – sometimes. She is the BIGGEST and BESTEST flirt ever and the scenes with Van and Bri skating the edge of does she-doesn’t she nearly killed me. The conflict here came from without – while it’s hard to be a gay celebrity, it’s harder still to be a gay woman of color who is also a celebrity – but the conflict came from within, too. Van’s new to this entire side of herself, she has no idea what to do to bring these two worlds together. And Bri has been there already and she’s not ready to take a step back in the closet. I think anyone who’s been in this situation before has felt the frustrations of both girls and the back and forth was SO painful. Adler perfectly captures that hurts so good feeling of new, complicated love.

i love you

Something that needs to be addressed, especially in YA, is the representation of lesbian/bi/pan girls. I can think of quite a handful of dead lesbians, but I can think of one f/f sex scene in YA and it’s in Under the Lights. Your mileage may vary, but I’m always pro-sex in my YA, and I was especially punching-the-air excited when I read the sex scene in this book because how many girls get to orgasm in YA and how many of those girls are reaching that place with other girls? Exactly. I’m so fucking happy about this that I cried while reading it (and also all the emotions were happening with this scene, too. Seriously, grab some tissues.) More than just this sex scene though, I love how casually but sternly this book takes some stereotypes and misconceptions and stomps on them. The aim of this book wasn’t to address bi-erasure or the male gaze, but it sure as shit did anyway and did so with grace. Bri telling her experiences of her identity being erased just hit home for me so hard and so unexpectedly.

clexa kiss
Bottom line: if you’re looking for more f/f, then look no further. Van, a Korean-American actress from a conservative family finds love and happiness with Bri. There’s no tragedy. There’s no dead lesbian tropes or women in refrigerators. What you’ll find in Under the Lights instead is an unexpected budding friendship, characters learning to grow up in their own ways, and a romance that will have you cheering and crying and squealing. Don’t even hesitate, just read this.


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