“Under the Lights” – teens make friends, girl gets the girl, in new YA novel about Hollywood stars

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler is a great book that kept my interest so intently that at one point, I was even literally reading it at red lights! Adler has an easy to follow, captivating writing style that doesn’t leave you skimming or going “when does it get to the thing” because even the background, not-plot-yet scenes are interesting.

The story skips back and forth between Josh, who starts off as a thoroughly awful person who is yet somehow fun to read — on Twitter I compared the experience to breaking dishes on purpose — and Vanessa, whose Korean-American home life reminded me of aspects of Jewish culture. Adler has some skill, by the way, to make me hate Josh instantly yet NOT want him to suffer at the hands of his sadistic mother. I actually brought up at dinner, “Why don’t I want the Bad Plot Thing to happen to this guy?”

I was tickled and grinning when I realized that the girl who entered the story with snarky one-liner was NOT just a walk-on but Vanessa’s eventual love interest. This book did a great job at portraying the nervous excitement of one’s first f/f relationship. I also loved the detail about Brianna’s soft body and curvy little tummy because those are things I like in women as well, and I think there’s not enough modeling in literature of what female attraction to other women’s bodies looks like. It is normal and should be celebrated.

Here’s a list of some more positives:
-Story with a good plot, and unexpected events, besides just the romance and character development stuff
-Bi love interest who doesn’t fall into any of the negative bi tropes
-The bi girl isn’t the confused one (hey, plenty of us are confused, but it’s nice to see someone who isn’t, because plenty of people think bisexuality IS confusion)
-The way Vanessa chooses to publicly come out is pretty awesome and perfect
-It was a great authorial choice to have so much padding/happy chapters after the more complex, emotional scenes at the climax, so you as a reader have time to coast and celebrate with the characters she’s made you love after 200+ pages.
-I love the fact that Vanessa has a girlfriend and a best girl friend! Hey, look, people who think f/f fiction destroys platonic representation: a gay girl with a Friend, Also! Oh, and the friendship she has with JOSH was cool.
-Spoiler: I enjoyed watching Josh’s redemption. It rang true and reading about his escape made me feel just as free and light as Vanessa coming out did.

I didn’t really enjoy the “I can’t do this unless you’re honest and out” scenes, but they absolutely 100% belonged in the book and other books like it–that’s just my personal preference because I was guilty of being that closeted person once upon a time and I guess I don’t like thinking about what effect that was having on my (now) spouse at the time.

So anyway, it’s a f/f story with a happy ending, no lesbians sleep with men, no lesbians die, and some well-written young characters get out from under their parents’ thumbs.

Note: there’s another book that comes before this one, but I didn’t read the first one and understood everything perfectly. If what brings you to Daylight Falls is the f/f, go ahead and just start with this one!

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Motherhood in the Mangoverse

“I want to see mothers that are more than just plot devices, who existed and had lives before and after they had kids. I want adventuring mothers, magic-wielding and sword-swinging and dragon-slaying mothers. Mothers who have done more than just look on lovingly and pack lunches for everyone else’s magical quests and epic journeys and die in the background.”

–Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds made a really good point this morning about the portrayal of motherhood in fiction. Women are already pushed to the sidelines; there’s this Hollywood wisdom that scenes are “boring” and need to be cut if they involve two women having a conversation, and this plus ageism and the fact that mothers are often seen as accessory-caretakers instead of fully realized characters means that mothers, specifically, get an even smaller piece of the pie than other types of female characters.

One of my mission statements in writing is to focus my stories on aspects of womanhood that are often de-centered by a mainstream culture focused on men first, and then women as sexual accessories to men. A woman’s satisfaction in her career, in looking out for her kids, in her patriotism, in her friendships with other women, or even in romances with other women—stories that center on these subject are confined to “women’s” stories, rather than being everybody’s, while a male character doing any of these things is assumed to be of interest to everyone.

By the third book in my series, my main character Queen Shulamit, an intense, lovable nerd focused on being the best leader for her people that she can be, is not only a mom but a “crunchy mom”, breastfeeding in public – on the throne! – and carrying around her baby princess in a wrap like my mom friends. I’ve been criticized for beating my reader over the head with my agendas before, and I guess one of them is the idea that motherhood shouldn’t quarantine the mother and that breastfeeding is not inappropriate. (Art below by Becca Schauer.)

Mother Justice

Shulamit sees her role as her country’s leader as if her people were just as much her responsibility as Princess Naomi is, so this picture symbolizes not only her role as one girl’s mother but also her whole outlook toward monarchy.

She co-mothers with her female partner, so that’s two fantasy-fiction moms right there. (Here’s a modern AU cartoon of them.)

But what about mothers of adult characters, since that’s the main thrust of Black Girl Nerd’s post–how their offspring overshadow them so that they hardly seem like people anymore? I hope I’ve done right by them.

Someone on Twitter pointed out to me that often, a fantasy character’s life is deeply affected not by the mother who raised them, but by their absent father who, in some cases, they literally never knew. My warrior Rivka (see above, the blonde) was raised by a single mother, impregnated as a teenager by someone from a much lower social class who was summarily run off the family estate in retaliation. Far from being influenced by this complete cipher of a sperm donor, Rivka’s father figure was instead her mother’s older brother, who influenced her deeply by being both role model and adversary in her journey to becoming a female knight.

But Rivka and her mother are also close, since they both bear her uncle’s ill will for her accidental origin. Tied together by a common mockery, they’re each other’s most important people as Rivka grows up, and Rivka remains loyal to her even once she’s left her uncle’s estate forever. Rivka’s mom is not a feminist role model by any means. All she ever talks about is clothes and men and jewelry, and sometimes she says annoyingly clueless (or even unintentionally bigoted) things. But part of what feminism means to me is not letting men oppress even those women for having had a teenage pregnancy. Rivka sends for her mother once she has a stable job so that Mom won’t have to live with her brother’s slut-shaming bullying any more.

And you know what? Rivka’s father is never coming back. He’s not going to be introduced in Book Eleventy as a plot device, he’s not going to show up one day in Perach and surprise everyone. He’s just absent. He’s gone. Why? Because that’s what happens in real life sometimes, and I wanted those girls to know that’s not their fault – or their mom’s fault – and that’s okay. When girls like that read books or see movies where eventually the absent father returns and theirs never will, do they feel that tiny pang of disappointment because they thought, just once, this time they’d finally see themselves?

The most heroic mother of all in my series, though, is Aafsaneh. Explaining whose mother she is would spoil a gimmick in her debut book, Climbing the Date Palm, but she’s a benevolent witch in her mid-forties, runs a vineyard by herself, and eventually rises to the throne (of somewhere else.) She also helps save the day in book four, which I just subbed to my usual publisher this week and which contains three very different queens who are all moms. If they take it, it’ll be out in 2016, and you can watch this noble, just, kind middle-aged mother perform magic and heal a damaged land.

Queen Shulamit reading to the baby princess, drawn by Kayaczek:mommyanddragon

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Royal family outing in the marketplace of Home City

With the loss of my grandparents this summer, I feel even more acutely the importance of “family of choice.” There are so many wonderful people in my life that I’ve found through luck rather than blood ties, from my super supportive in-laws, to my loyal friends.

Queen Shulamit is also lucky that way. With her warm, nurturing, and innovative partner Aviva, her bodyguard Rivka who’s like that big sister who beats up the bullies and then hugs you til you stop crying, and Isaac, the fatherly palace wizard, she’s got the emotional support she needs to run a country and raise that cute little baby princess. (Scene below from A Harvest of Ripe Figs, their latest adventure.)

Marketplace
Artwork by Rebecca Schauer.

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Wonder Woman likes my books!

Yesterday I went down to Wild Iris Books to hang out during their Feminist Block Party (and pick up a sno cone!) and a staff member, friend, and fan was there with her AWESOME cosplay.

wonder woman

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Guest post and f/f YA giveaway: Lunaside by J. L. Douglas

I invited my fellow Prizm author J. L. Douglas to come to my blog to talk about how her new book Lunaside has not only an all-girl love triangle, but strong female friendships as well!

Lunaside is a lesbian summer camp romance that’s as much about the summer camp as it is about the lesbian romance.Aside from the whole her-girlfriend-and-this-other-girl-who-is-into-her-both-work-at-Lunaside love triangle thing, Moira’s pretty lucky. Her two best friends work at Lunaside with her.

lunaside friendship
There’s Jude, star rugby player and the head counselor of Sports Camp. She and Moira met when Jude’s family was vacationing on Trundle Island when they were both four years old. She threatened to spray Moira with the garden hose when she caught her playing with a rugby ball in the backyard, after her mother had told her not to.

Moira didn’t tell, and they’ve been friends ever since.

Bailey and Moira met last summer at Lunaside. They didn’t get along at first because Moira is allergic to new people, but they shared a cabin so they had to learn to get along.  Bailey ended up being the first person at the camp that Moira came out to, and they’ve been close ever since…even though Bailey’s “fashion advice” is sometimes a bit much.

Moira will wear things that aren’t sundresses when she wants, Bailey.

Bailey and Jude also become friends when they, despite overwhelming differences, discover their shared love of post-camp beach bonfires.

So what if Jude’s always shouting and Bailey’s always proposing wardrobe upgrades that involve Moira wearing things and washing her hair every day? They help her out with her problems when she needs it. And their connection gives Moira something better than a maybe-maybe-not love triangle—a not-messed-up-but-definitely-unlikely friend triangle.

(Friend triangle. That’s a thing, right? If not, can it be a thing now, please?)
Art by Laya. To enter to win an autographed paperback, leave a comment with a cool friendship memory! Winner will be drawn at random on August 1.
Here’s Moira with her two potential girlfriends!
lunaside
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The magic of gluten-free baking: a comic by Shira and Becca

This is a background moment from the fluffy lgbtq fantasy book A Harvest of Ripe Figs. If you were wondering what kinds of work it took to create that gluten-free challah Aviva brings to Shabbat in the middle of the book, read on!

Dough comic 0
Dough comic 1

Dough comic 2

Dough comic 3

Dough comic 4

Dough comic 5

Words/story by Shira Glassman, art by Becca Schauer

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Rivka as Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan, usually accompanied by his blue ox, Babe, is a legendary lumberjack from North American mythology. Since he’s a folk hero with reported superhuman qualities, it seemed like a perfect fit for a Rivka cosplay. (Besides, making Paul Bunyan a Jewish woman is almost as much fun as making Siegfried a Jewish woman.)

Tall tale

Rivka and her dragon are from these books, light-hearted feminist fantasy novels set mostly in the tropics. Above art by Rebecca Schauer.

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