Book Review: Black Iris

Posted March 16, 2015 by Kara in book review / 8 Comments

Book Review: Black IrisBlack Iris by Leah Raeder
Published by Atria on April 28th, 2015
Genres: mystery-thriller, new adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

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.

How do I even begin to explain what Black Iris is and what it does to me? When you see yourself staring back at you from within the pages of a book, reading becomes a whole different experience. Black Iris, for me, filled a void that I hadn’t realized existed until I found this book. There is a severe lack of f/f NA, of course, but there’s also a severe lack of angry, troubled girls who love other angry, troubled girls. Finding this book was like a homecoming.

I’m not secretive about my sexuality. I scream about it pretty loudly, especially on twitter. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been wondering where all the bisexual heroines are, wondering why YA (and NA) shies away from mental illness and neurodiversity, or asking for bad girls who do bad things and don’t apologize. Black Iris gives you all these things and more.

Guys, this book ruined me. How am I ever going to read another f/f NA that isn’t written by Leah Raeder? She managed to sink her teeth into something vital and alive when she crafted Laney. Beautiful, broken, completely fucked up Laney. Between Laney and Blythe – the gorgeous and battered and untamed girl Laney desperately falls for – I saw so much of myself and so much of the girls I’ve loved. You want unlikable heroines? You want unreliable narrators? Well, you want Black Iris.

Beyond the obvious – girls loving girls, awakening sexuality, mental illness – Black Iris reaches deeper into themes I hadn’t been expecting. Granted, I didn’t know a whole lot about the book before diving in, but I didn’t foresee Laney piecing together a relationship with her brother. Or the bullying and the horror that comes with growing up not cishet. I certainly hadn’t expected obsession to be a constant thread throughout the book. And anger. So much anger, you could feel it like a pulse right under the surface of every single word.

So, this book is dark. Really dark, but you already knew that. Trigger warning, though, for suicide and drug addiction and raging homophobia and misogyny. Like BIG TIME.

Black Iris wasn’t all dark, though. There was a surprising amount of humor here, and for those who love that back and forth banter between a main character and her love interest? Well, you’re going to get it in heaping doses in this book. Blythe especially was hilarious, with the way she and Armin went at each other. Laney’s humor was pretty fucking dark, but I expected that, and it was perfect. But also, there were lines like “His mustache hypnotized me.” And it was always so sudden and unexpected, I’d be laughing out loud in the middle of the night by myself. Also, lots of breaking the fourth wall.

His eyes, a clear reddish-brown like carnelian, speckled with tiny flaws of amber and copper where the light caught.

Fuck. They’re brown. His eyes are fucking brown, okay? Stop being a terrible writer, Laney.

There was a lot of this, Laney criticizing herself for being so ridiculous, Laney talking directly to the reader.

Now, I have to talk about the relationships in this book because oh. My. God. When Laney first meets Armin and Blythe, she just falls right into step with them like the three of them were made for one another. There was so much chemistry, and I was DYING. There was a certain scene between the three of them that made me have to just put the book down and literally roll around on the floor like I had completely lost my mind. I frequently had to put the book down to catch my breath because I just could not fucking handle all the ways it made me feel. The first half of this book, before everything started to come together with that terrifying clarity, was all about these three. Like, if you want to read about OT3s, you really want to read Black Iris. Also, something I don’t typically cover since I read primarily YA: the sex scenes! Raeder, thank the fucking stars, did not need to use any scary/cheesy/uncomfortable euphemisms in her writing to get the point across. The sex was explicit, and jesus, there was a lot of it, and it was so hot. The perfect balance between physical and mental (just like all the rest of the scenes, let’s be real).

If I had to levy one criticism, it’d be in the sometimes-ridiculous writing. Don’t get me wrong – 99% of the time the lyrical prose was beautiful. I love writing like that. I love when a writer uses unexpected descriptions that don’t just tell you about what’s happening but instead takes you on a sort of sensory journey. It speaks to my synesthesia, so of course, I love it. But I’m not going to lie and tell you that it wasn’t sometimes over the top. Every once in a while there would be a word choice that just didn’t fit to me. Like resting your head on someone’s shoulder, you’d say “head” right? Well Laney would say skull or something, and it’d just be weird. Also, the overuse of somewhat lofty words when something else would work just a well without jarring the reader from the page. But seriously, this is like, the tiniest observation and the writing was mostly just magical.

Two girls, cherry-mouthed, glitter-lashed, our skin luminous with moonlight and sweat, making out beneath pennants that sill shivered with afternoon’s boy bravado.

If only you bastards could see me now.

The wind in my hair, my heart dilating as widely as the sky. Melancholy does that – opens you up to make space for more of itself.

And more than just the beauty of the prose, the writing itself cuts right down to the truth. Black Iris show you exactly what the sweet agony feels like, falling in love with a girl. The depictions of Laney’s drug abuse and obsessions were perfect. To put it vaguely, there’s a lot that Laney goes through that I definitely, definitely understand, and reading about her struggle, especially her mental illness and drug addiction and okay literally everything, was difficult and beautiful.

Black Iris isn’t a book for everybody. If you’re looking for redemption between these pages, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you’re searching for anything lighthearted and easy, well, sorry to say this, but you are in the wrong place. This isn’t a fairy tale and there are no happy endings. Laney and Blythe and Armin are three fucked up individuals who have somehow found each other and held on tight while they spiral downward into madness. It’s a rush. Like Laney says, “It felt amazing, even when we hit the ground.”


8 responses to “Book Review: Black Iris

  1. I cannot help but feel as though this book is made for me. I’m pretty much like you, disappointed that there’s not a lot of fiction out there that represents our sexulaity, and that sucks, but this, this sounds like it’s going to god-damn amazing and I seriously, seriously need it now. Thank you for this fantastic review Bekka, thank you so so much!
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  2. Obviously you already know how much I love this book AND how much I love how much you loved it. So very much yes to everything from the humor to the hotness to the intersectionality, and although I knew details of the book going along just from early conversations about it with Leah back when she was first drafting, I totally didn’t foresee the sibling relationship either, and it was a really pleasant surprise. So so glad you found a basically perfect Bekka Book in NA!
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    • I was honestly so surprised to love an NA this much. Like, in the beginning I thought Josh was going to be the MMC, and I was devastated. But nope, that’s not how it happened at all. Basically, this book just kind of upended all of my expectations about what NA is and what it has to be.

  3. “If you’re anything like me, you’ve been wondering where all the bisexual heroines are, wondering why YA (and NA) shies away from mental illness and neurodiversity, or asking for bad girls who do bad things and don’t apologize.”

    Omg. Yes. I just love it when the heroine is a bitch, recognizes it, and doesn’t apologize or try to become a goody two shoes along with every other YA heroine. I love this so much. The sad thing is those books have really low grades because a lot of people, including women, have a hard time liking a MC that doesn’t try to redeem herself.

  4. Jenny

    Wow, Bekka, it subs like you find a book that touched you and embraced you like never before. Damn! I wish I could find a book like that. It’s been far too long.

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