ARC Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Summary: 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.

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★★★★.5

This is a book that surprised me because of its unique format: the two POVs aren’t the MC and the love interest, but two MCs who happen to be (somewhat) friends.

Vanessa is a Korean-American actress and the protagonist of a TV show. All of her moves are monitored by the media and regulated by her publicist Jade. When Jade’s daughter Brianna gets close to Vanessa things get confusing for Vanessa, who’s always thought she was straight.

Josh is the son of an actress who’s down on her luck and wants him to be on a reality show about her family, something Josh reluctantly has to do unless he wants his Malibu house to be taken away from him.

I started out not really liking Vanessa and almost hating Josh, but I knew I’d end up loving both of them, and I have to say that even when Josh was at his worst I got attached pretty much right away and I wanted to keep reading and get that sweet character development.

There’s three main aspects to this novel:

• Vanessa’s story: her life as a Hollywood star, how this affects her relationships, and what it means to be a Korean-American actress and what it might mean for her career when you add “gay” to the equation. I loved Vanessa’s whole arc from denial to questioning to finally accepting her attraction to a girl and to being okay with coming out publicly. I also loved the romance between her and Brianna, it was very cute and the chemistry and communication between them was great.

• Josh’s story: his (non-)relationship with his family, his wild parties, the not really knowing what to do with his life or even who to be. I think Josh’s development was amazing especially considering there’s no romance for him in this book. Usually one way to show a character’s growth is to give them a partner and show how they are with them, how they become better people. With Josh, he does this on his own and with the help of his friends, and I think that’s a nice and important message that should be in more YAs.

• Vanessa and Josh’s friendship: in an alternate universe, Vanessa and Josh have a beautiful enemies-to-friends-to-lovers arc. Here, they get a beautiful enemies-to-friends arc that was incredible and rare to see. I love how they had to forcibly spend time together at first but then because of different circumstances they spent more time together, mostly helping each other out, and from that a feeling of friendship bloomed. This was one of the few books where it’s clear that friendship is a feeling before it becomes a type of relationship between two people, and although it kind of served Josh’s character arc the way a romantic relationship would have, I feel like it was much more than that and it’s just as important as the actual romance that happens within the book.

Overall I’m so happy with this book. I don’t really care for Hollywood and celebrity stuff so sometimes at the beginning I was a little bored with it, but that never made me want to stop reading. All I can say is: come for the f/f romance, stay for the beautiful variety of relationships and themes portrayed here.

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