Dahlia Adler gives us raw, bold and inspiring novels that tackle some of the harder issues that don’t always come to surface with young adult (and even new adult) stories. Her books provide sweet romances and friendships whilst showing the difficulties in being who you are and how to overcome these difficulties. She teaches us to be ourselves, and reminds us that by simply doing that we can inspire others to do it, too.
In her novel Under the Lights, the follow up book to Behind the Scenes, Adler reminds us that trying to be the perfect person in order to fit in and inspire others doesn’t work – people are inspired by those who aren’t afraid to be themselves in a world that constantly tries to make them something different.
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.
I loved many things about Under the Lights and one was that Adler let the characters just be who they were and tell their story. It led to a slightly unconventional book, but had Adler tried to put Josh and Vanessa into roles that didn’t suit them then the story wouldn’t have worked as well as it did.
Another thing I loved, and something that made the story so powerful, was the novels main theme. The thread that runs from beginning to end is the disparity of treatment and opportunity between a straight white guy and a queer Asian girl. It’s not often that young adult books touch on such an important and strong issue, but it is something that needs to be addressed and there should be more books like this in the genre.
There is also a powerful message in Under the Lights. The book is about giving young gay girls the courage to be themselves and to know that everything they’re going through is real, and Adler gives the message that romance is romance no matter who it’s between.
“Anyone who doesn’t want you to be happy with who you are is an a*****e. F**k pleasing everyone else. You only live once. Who are you gonna do it for?”
― Dahlia Adler, Under the Lights
There’s so much in the novel it’s hard to just boil it down to saying it only gives us one real message because Adler also makes a point of showing readers the hardships and difficulties for young gay women as a minority, the industry that is Hollywood, the importance of friendship, and also the ways that friendship grows and changes and how much acceptance matters.
But another thing I liked was that Adler confronted the issue of you can’t change who are you to make life easier and more convenient for others.
“Like boys all you want, Park. It still won’t fix this. I’m bi and I promise you, it’s not a fucking light switch. You can’t just set it on ‘boy’ because it’s inconvenient that you like a girl right now.”
― Dahlia Adler, Under the Lights
If you’re looking for a powerful story filled with humour, friendship, love and work with characters coming to terms with who they are and who they love, then this book is for you.