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.
Do you feel curious, but somewhat cautious, about New Adult as a genre? Do you like determined, brave heroines who are figuring themselves out and snarky asshole boys who end up being good friends when they need to be? Do you want to read about an adorable interracial romance between two girls? Are you in the mood for a fun, fast-paced book that has a lot of intelligent things to say about race and sexual orientation?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you should definitely read Under the Lights.
Here’s the thing–I’ve always been suspicious of books that took place in Hollywood. I blame all those A-List books I kept reading in middle school, even after it became apparent that I no longer liked them. But I kept hearing about this book, and this author, so eventually I picked it up and I fell in love. The characters, who are flawed and real, undergo some amazing development, the friendships and romantic relationships are very solid, and the book was both entertaining and intelligent. This book is about identity–trying to understand who you are and breaking free from the expectations of others to find your own path. It handles this theme beautifully, in such a way that a lot of teenagers and twenty-somethings will be able to relate.
Note: this book is actually a sequel to Behind the Scenes, which I have not read, though I’ve been told it focuses on secondary characters Liam and Ally. There are some references in this book to the events of Behind the Scenes, but you don’t need to have read it to understand this one.
When I started the book, the dialogue felt a little forced. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I kind of cringed at every mention of Pinkberry. The thing is, after the first fifty pages, I didn’t have any more problems with the dialogue. I don’t know if it got better or I got used to it or I was just so invested in the story that I didn’t care.
Certain scenes–particularly in Josh chapters, the many parties and anything involving his mother’s plans for a reality show–were just not my thing at all. I can’t put my finger on why, which probably means it’s a personal issue and not the book’s fault at all.
Like with any good contemporary book, the characters are what made the story for me.
This book has two POV characters.There’s Josh Chester. At first glance, Josh seems like exactly the type of character I would expect to see in a Hollywood book, and exactly the type of character I would hate with a fiery passion. He is, to put it simply, a jerk. A rich, partying, womanizing, obnoxious jerk. The narrative never tries to make excuses for that, or to force the readers to love him…and eventually, against my better judgment, I ended up caring about him anyway; he ends up being a pretty good friend to Vanessa, and he undergoes some significant growth.
Then we have Vanessa Park, the star of popular TV series Daylight Falls, who loves acting but is struggling between what her parents want and what her publicist wants and what she wants…oh, and falling for her publicist’s daughter/intern, Bri. I loved how much she came to terms with herself, and the decisions she eventually made. Her development took time and was written in a way that made sense with her character, which made the payoff at the end even more satisfying. I also loved that Vanessa being Korean was an important part of her motivation.
Actually, I love the way the book handles race and sexual orientation in general, particularly Vanessa pointing out the difficulty of finding work as an Asian actress, Bri’s confidence in her sexuality, and Vanessa’s eventual self-acceptance. (It should also be noted that Bri is bisexual, and the word ‘bisexual’ is actually used, and there are no unpleasant tropes involved re: her bisexuality).
And Vanessa and Josh’s friendship is pretty awesome. We talk a lot about hate-to-love in a romantic context, but for me, hate-to-friendship works just as well.
Plus, this book was just super fun! The pages moved quickly, the dialogue was snappy, and Vanessa and Bri were adorable together. It was one of those delightful happy contemporaries that reminds me why I enjoy contemporary in the first place.
Pick up if you like fun diverse books that make you feel things!