“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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About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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