I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Black Iris by Leah Raeder
Published by Atria Books on April 28th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult
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The next dark and sexy romantic suspense novel from the USA Today bestselling author of Unteachable.
It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn't worth sticking around for.
If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.
She's not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.
But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it's time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.
Which was the plan all along.
Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.
She's going to show them all.
I’m not going to lie guys, I’ve been hardcore struggling to write a coherent review of Black Iris. It has been a long time since a book has hit me quite on this level and I’ve been floundering trying to find the words to do it justice. Long story short, I can’t review it, I give up. Instead I’m going to list my favorite things about it and tell you all YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING PHENOMENAL.
1. It’s dark as fuck.
I’m not even talking about the part where pretty much every character is some level of a terrible person, though that plays into it. Black Iris is gritty and nasty and doesn’t give a fuck what you think of it and I have huge amounts love for that. There’s some kind of twisted relief that comes from seeing all of the vengeful, shitty stuff you have buried deep in your head (you in this case meaning me) dressed up in lyrical prose and turned into a book. I was an incredibly angry, self-destructive adolescent/young adult/new adult/what are age categories anymore I don’t even know, and there were multiple times when I had to set Black Iris down and cry a bit over how much I recognized, if not in specific then in spirit, some of the paths Laney’s interior monologue took. There’s something unspeakably cathartic about knowing that someone else gets that kind of ugly, belligerent rage and then as the guts to write about it.
2. It’s beautiful.
If you are unfamiliar with Leah Raeder’s prose, I hate to tell you what to do with your life, but you need to reexamine your priorities. Her writing is gorgeous and lush in a way that makes for a perfect contrast to the biting cynicism of the narrative. I’d share my favorite quotes but I don’t even know how to choose.
(For reference, I’m not a tabber but in this case I felt like I had to) (Also, this doesn’t include the tabs I would’ve put in if I hadn’t lost my post-its at one point in the middle, so)
A handful of random examples to entice you:
Interstate 88 ran through a prairie sea beneath an ocean of stars. The faint white shadow of the Milky Way lay like a ghostly finger across the night, holding in a secret.
Listening to them banter was like standing between two ballet dancers at a gun fight.
Girls love each other like animals. There is something ferocious and unself-conscious about it. We don’t guard ourselves like we do with boys. No one trains us to shield our hearts from each other. With girls, it’s total vulnerability from the beginning. Our skin is bare and soft. We love with claws and teeth and the blood is just proof of how much. It’s feral. And it’s relentless.
3. Antiheroines FTW
This quote pretty much says it all:
I am not the heroine of this story. And I’m not trying to be cute. It’s the truth. I’m diagnosed borderline and seriously fucked-up. I hold grudges. I bottle my hate until it ferments into poison, and then I get high off the fumes. I’m completely dysfunctional and that’s the way I like it, so don’t expect a character arc where I finally find Redemption, Growth, and Change, or learn How to Forgive Myself and Others.
Laney is unlike any other heroine I have ever read. She is, by her own admission, a liar and an Unsympathetic Protagonist. She is fucked up and completely unapologetic about it and that is so goddamned refreshing. You know how sometimes a MC is presented to you as a messed up, tough girl badass but by the end of the book she has seen the light and is on the path to a happier, healthier self? This is not that book and Laney would eat that MC alive. I’m not saying those kinds of stories aren’t awesome but sometimes a change of pace is nice and it’s rare for a book to full on commit to a cast of characters ranging from ‘you make poor decisions’ to ‘holy shit you shouldn’t be around other humans ever’ on the scale of terrible people like Black Iris does.
4. It’s meta.
The Laney quote in point 3 sets the stage for this fascinating, semi-fourth wall down, meta thing Black Iris plays with. It openly and not so openly talks about itself at various points in the story. The narrative is blunt and self aware which makes it all the more jarring when you realize that it’s also lying through it’s teeth. The entire book is an endless stream of contrasts, light and dark, now and then, truth and lie that keep you constantly off balance.
5. It’s a total mindfuck.
Remember that thing about how Laney’s a liar? Well, you’re in her head and she’s picking and choosing what she wants you to know and when she wants you to know it and that gets pretty interesting. The narrative jumps around in time, dropping just enough clues for you to know you don’t know the whole story and maybe think you’re figuring it out before ripping the rug out from underneath you and starting you over from scratch.
THIS IS HOW YOU TRIANGLE. THIS IS THE MOST FLAWLESS TAKE ON A LOVE TRIANGLE I’VE EVER READ IN MY LIFE AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW IF I CAN CALL IT A LOVE TRIANGLE BUT WHATEVER IT IS, I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT IT FROM START TO FINISH. Also, “I’ll fuck this world up with you” is one of my favorite ship lines of all time.
7. It’s hot.
All I’m saying is that a Leah Raeder sex scene could very well ruin other sex scenes for you.
If I was gay, I wouldn’t need an asterisk beside my name. I could stop worrying if the girl I like will bounce when she finds out I also like dick. I could have a coming-out party without people thinking I just want attention. I wouldn’t have to explain that I fall in love with minds, not genders or body parts. People wouldn’t say I’m ‘just a slut’ or ‘faking it’ or ‘undecided’ or ‘confused.’ I’m not confused. I don’t categorize people by who I’m allowed to like and who I’m allowed to love. Love doesn’t fit into boxes like that. It’s blurry, slippery, quantum. It’s only limited by our perceptions and before we slap a label on it and cram it into some category, everything is possible.
This is so fucking important guys. Not only is it amazing to have this incredible LGBT+ book, but to have it be wrapped up in this idea that not everything/everyone has to have a label, that some people will never feel comfortable fitting themselves entirely in a box and that that’s something they share with other people is so fucking important I don’t know how to say it.
Don’t get me wrong, finding a label that works for you when nothing else has so far is an incredible thing for so many people and if identifying with a label sets your soul at ease then I hope you find it, you deserve that. But there are also people that labels don’t work for.
I’ve never identified with the word bisexual, I’ve never felt like it’s something that I have a right to apply to myself. That said, I’ve never completely identified with heterosexual either, though for most of my life I just assumed/told myself it was something that all straight people felt at least sort of awkward and not right about (in the very few conversations I’ve had about it, I’ve called myself predominantly straight and/or heterosexual* with the * referring to the occasional instances where that’s not true). This isn’t something I’ve ever really felt comfortable talking openly about, less because I think people will be assholes about it and more because I don’t know how to explain to other people something I can barely explain to myself. And then I read Black Iris and Leah Raeder’s acknowledgements and I cannot tell you what it felt like to read and process her message, though I imagine some of you know. It spoke to me at the right time in a way that nothing ever has before and I realized I don’t need to stress about what box to put myself in. I’ve seen people talk about sexuality as a spectrum but it’s never been driven home for me quite like it was here and given me the courage to talk openly about it in regards to myself (something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do up until the moment I typed out these words).
So, thank you Leah Raeder. This hardly does justice to the kind of ride Black Iris has taken me on but I hope I’ve given you guys enough to convince you this book is 100% worth picking up immediately (unless, you know, you like fluffy, happy things, in which case this probably isn’t for you).