With the huge success of the first #LGBTReadathon, the lovely Faye of A Daydreamer’s Thoughts brought it back for round two at the end of June. It was brilliant the first time around so of course I joined in again! Here’s what I read this time around:
Under the Lights, Dahlia Adler
286|Spencer Hill Contemporary|30th June 2015|US e-proof|NetGalley review copy
Josh Chester loves being the Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modelling gig. But his laidback 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 that 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 find 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.
There were two things that made me pick this up: the beautiful cover and Jim’s boundless excitement for its release and Adler’s previous novels. Lesson of the day: always listen to Jim!
I did actually struggle with this at first. None of the characters seemed to have a redeeming feature and I just couldn’t connect with them, but I had been warned about that and told to stick with it. Stick with it I did and I’m really glad. Josh is an arsehole throughout the novel, but as we got to know him a little better, I came to see glimpses of why and I ended up liking him anyway. I never felt an affinity with Vanessa either but I loved the journey she went through her parents and her battle to act, be in the media and struggle with her sexuality.
Under the Lights is wonderfully diverse. Not only is Vanessa’s story dealing with bisexuality and working out what she feels and who she loves, as well as what that means for her life, but she’s also Korean American. It was refreshing to read about the struggles of being an actor in Hollywood as a person of colour who is realising they’re gay. Her fear of being a good role model for her teen fans, keeping up the good-girl image polished by her agent and publicity team and the fallout from her friends and family. The poor girl had a lot on her plate!
This was my first Dahlia Adler, but it definitely won’t be my last. Under the Lights is sweet, fun and fantastically diverse.
293|Soho Press|2nd June 2015|US hardback|purchased copy
Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut confronts race, class, and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.
The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto – miracle cure-alls projects don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. Aaron could never forget how he’s grown up poor, how his friends aren’t there for him, or how his father committed suicide in their one-bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching set-up on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.
I didn’t click with this one straight away, in fact it took me a good few chapters, but I persevered because I’ve read some serious praise of More Happy Than Not. It was definitely worth it.
Aaron has a lot going on before Thomas even enters his life. His dad committed suicide, he shares a one-bedroom apartment with him mum and brother, money is low and now he’s struggling to work out his feelings for his new best friend. This novel is a dark one and Aaron gets a seriously heavy dose of bad things happen to him before the novel even begins, but they seem to lighten when he finds someone to share his love of a comic book series, introduce to his favourite places, and get to know him in a way his girlfriend and childhood friends seem unable to.
I loved the way the relationship developed between Aaron and Thomas. The effortless, easy friendship reminded me a lot of Aristotle and Dante from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (which if you haven’t read, do!). That intensity of feeling when someone just gets you is palpable, but there’s also burgeoning tension as both boys start to try and figure out what makes their relationship different. But about halfway through the novel, everything changed and the novel took a turn that surprised me so much it took my breath away.
The way that Adam Silvera brought in the Leteo Institute and the idea of altering and erasing memories into what felt like a contemporary novel was brilliantly done. It felt incredibly natural and only a direct part of the characters’ lives when it had to be. It’s going to be super difficult to talk about the second half of the novel without spoilers so I’m going to be brief and vague! The way that Leteo intertwined with Aaron’s story was heartbreaking and I will admit that I teared up a good couple of times! It was completely unexpected and I couldn’t stop reading.
Aaron’s story brought up questions of ethics, morality and what it means to be. It’s not something I think of often, but the potency of memories and the hardships you suffer really do define who you become. More Happy Than Not asks who you are without the memory, the emotions, the fallout of those experiences in a heartbreaking way. It also emphasises that being gay isn’t something that can be erased or overwritten, it’s part of who you are and I think that that is an important lesson for both those coming to terms with their feelings and, well, for everyone really.
More Happy Than Not is thought-provoking, heart-breaking and utterly original. I can’t wait to see what Adam Silvera delivers next.
The Dark Light, Julia Bell
256|Macmillan|16th July 2015|UK paperback|gifted by Debbie
He looks toward the sky, hands raised. Against the fierce light of the fire he appears as a shadow, hair blowing across his face like strands of wool caught in the hawthorn. ‘He’s coming for his children.’
Rebekah has lived on New Canaan her whole life and has never thought to question the strange beliefs of her community or the extreme teachings of their charismatic leader. But then Alex arrives, with a dark past and a soul that needs saving and the girls are inexplicably drawn to one another. Soon Rebekah starts to question everything she has ever known, and Alex starts to suspect that she isn’t on the island to be saved, but to be sacrificed…
I had hear very little about The Dark Light before I started reading; I had based my expectations on a recollection of enjoying Julia Bell’s novel, Massive, years ago. Sadly, I doubt I’ll remember this one.
Religion is one of those topics that I really struggle to read about. I have no religion inclinations myself, but I find it an infuriating topic to talk and read about, but luckily the religious aspect of this novel was bound up in a cult which is a topic that I found fascinating. I did still find the religious spouting of the Bevins and the rest of the people of New Canaan irritating, having it balanced out by Alex’s shock and horror made it bearable. It’s mostly the disregard for science, the inferior treatment and position of women and the fanaticism of the whole thing that I don’t get!
The skewed views of the people on the island are the basis of the novel. Alex is thrown there as an ultimatum: turn over a new leaf or go through the legal process for committing arson. It seemed like an obvious choice. Alex has been adopted by a very religious couple so it was obvious solution for them, but she’s openly gay and that doesn’t always go down very well. Alex’s sexuality was definitely a sideline in The Dark Light. It came up in the island’s leader’s sermons, a few catty comments from the older members of the church and in flickers of attraction between Alex and Rebekah but it was definitely a minor role in the novel which I liked: it’s just part of Alex’s character.
Unfortunately, I really didn’t feel anything for The Dark Light other than irritation at the cult.
What did you read for the readathon? Have you read any of these? What did you think? Any LGBT recommendations?