There’s always that defining moment (or a few of them) when you realize you have to break away from what your parents want and do your own thing — even if this isn’t in their best interest. I’m reading a parenting guide for work right now, and the author talks about how parents need to know when to let go, and let their kids make their own choices. How else will they learn to deal with everything the real world throws at them? They need to be able to stand on their own two feet, and coddling (or controlling them) doesn’t make that happen.
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler is no parenting guide (although the parents could use one) but is so much about that defining moment when you know you are about to go over the edge and start your life. (Plus fun, sweet, deep, and sexy.) In alternating POVs, we have Josh — a celebrity playboy known for his lavish parties — and Van — an Asian American actress who just lost her best friend to college and is feeling a bit off kilter. Josh is feeling similarly but he would never admit it. His best friend (also an actor) is basically the Zac Efron type — everyone loves him, he’s nabbing all the best roles, and he’s head over heels for Van’s best friend (the feeling is mutual). Josh and Van are unlikely friends but are thrown together in so many scenarios due to their absent best friends and working on the same set. In typical fashion, a reader might think this means these two are going to fall for each other but (and this is not a spoiler) no such luck. Instead, Dahlia gives us the makings of a solid friendship — even if our two main characters don’t know it yet.
This is why life is so great, right? It surprises us all the time.
And Van’s about to face a pretty big surprise herself. When she meets her publicist’s daughter/intern, she’s shocked to admit she’s attracted to her. After being locked in a superficial relationship with another celebrity and projecting the image of a “polite, squeaky-clean” Van — Brianna jolts her awake. Is she gay? This inner turmoil that Van is suddenly consumed with is so pitch perfect. It never felt dramatic. Her concerns are legit. She’s already worried about finding more roles as an Asian-American actress, her parents have lost patience with this “hobby” of hers and pretty much demand she start college or else, and now she might be gay? It’s not only a matter of how she feels about it but how will this LOOK to everyone else. (We may not be in Hollywood but aren’t we dealing with something similar every day with social media?) Van needs to get to a place where the real her takes precedence and everything else falls into place afterward. (And bravo to Brianna who is so refreshingly upfront with Van from the get-go about her own limits and experiences. No games, people.)
Van and Josh are both pushed to their breaking points in Under the Lights. How much longer can they do someone else’s bidding and ignore their own? What is the right next step? There are so many delectable layers to this story; Dahlia writes with such ease and thoughtfulness, and the chemistry between all the characters kept me hooked and reading mostly in one sitting. (I also have a soft spot for dancing scenes, and I am nuts for Light‘s dance scene.) While I highly recommend giving all of Dahlia’s books a whirl, this one, for me, definitely tops her work so far.