Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Under The Lights by Dahlia Adler

Under The Lights by Dahlia Adler
Release Date - June 30, 2015
Publisher Website - Spencer Hill
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 312 pages
My Rating - 4/5
**borrowed from a friend for review**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
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.
Growing into who you'll become is filled with mistakes, regrets, and learning experiences. It is even harder to do under the harsh light of scrutiny. Dahlia Adler's Under The Lights makes the spotlight literal as Josh and Vanessa grow up in Hollywood, but it's the recognizable part of becoming your own person with the expectations of those around you that shines through this incredibly readable novel.

The character growth is the center of the story. The story makes you feel like you're being allowed to peek into the lives of real people. Both of them are struggling with what they want, and with what others want from them. The industry that is their world plays the role of just another thing that wants something from them. The character development is not only authentic but earned. Each of them questioning who they are, what they want, and what it all means for their future is something that is entirely relatable to those reading it. It makes falling into the story effortless, and it adds a human element that is often missing in the usual Hollywood set character archetype.

The dual narration worked for this particular story. Dahlia Adler created two vastly different characters, and crafted both of them through their voices. Each is distinct, and fits within both the story, and the setting. Dahlia's talent seems to most evident in her characterization and the attention to detail she shows in getting the voice right is supremely evident here.

The romance is sweet, tentative, and with just the right amount of drama to increase the stakes. Tying the romance directly into Vanessa's character arc worked to make it feel vital to the story but not something that overtook it. The slight issue I had was that, while we get to see a lot of the relationship development, I wanted more. I wanted more scenes where Van and Bri talk. I wanted Vanessa to spend more time discussing her feelings, and what it meant. The moments felt quick, and some of them didn't carry the weight I wished they would have. This may have been the only draw back of the dual narration - not enough time spent with either character (in my opinion). You got the impression things were happening 'behind the scenes' so to speak and I felt some of that could have added to the story.

The importance of stories like this can not be stressed enough. To be someone finishing up high school and going through what Vanessa goes through and seeing yourself reflected in a novel would be huge. I had friends in high school that a novel like this would have helped. It includes different forms of diversity and does so in a really organic way.

The ending of the story left me wanting a third novel about Josh. While this novel focuses on him, I would not say no to another novel that focuses solely on his journey. This felt more like Van's story with it being a set up for Josh to find his own way. This character, for me, stole the spotlight and it doesn't feel like his journey is quite done yet.

Dahlia offers up an atypical Hollywood ending in this one, and it's most welcome. She doesn't make the obvious choices, and instead gives us endings that are totally fitting for the characters, uncertainty and all. A story that examines the various ways we struggle to find ourselves, and to accept ourselves once we do. A sequel that surpasses the original as the characters, and their story shine just a little more brightly. 

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