Black Iris by Leah Raeder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I took my first creative writing class (spring 2014), there was quite a variation in genres for all the manuscripts and/or short stories me and my classmates were working on. They ranged from a pretty standard Fincher-like cop-chases-serial-killer thriller with an obvious twist to a somewhat Chandler-esque crime story set in the desert Southwest. They ranged from my best friend's fantasy world way beyond human comprehension (spoiler alert - there's a quasi-slash romance between a spoiled prince and a star in human form) to my Amazing Spider-Man-influenced piece of Whedonian work (I'm still surprised that first draft of Red Rain - Chapters 1-3, anyway - went over so well with the class.)
And then there was the one extremely dark sex-and-drugs-fueled story that featured teenage characters doing some seriously naughty stuff. Those three chapters (the only taste of that story I ever got) are probably the closest thing to Black Iris I've ever read, until now.
There's really no beating around the bush - this book is not for everyone. It has a foot in YA territory with a good chunk of the story taking place while the protagonist, Laney, is in high school. But the book is truly New Adult, with Laney not at all holding back in her descriptions of (very frequent) sex, drug use (Ecstasy, I think, is most frequently featured in this book), and the occasional spot of violent revenge. And do I mean "not holding back" - she has a way of drowning the reader in long-winded, verbose, profane, and even run-on sentences. But then again, she spends much of the book high, and, coupled with her serious mental health issues, it's a good recipe for a self-admitted Unreliable Narrator. Indulging in purple-prose narration actually fits the character, and helps make the book more addictive as a result.
Me, personally, I found my favorite part of the book to be the barrage of references to music (mostly 80s, plus some modern alternative artists like St. Vincent or Lorde) and/or the works of George R.R. Martin. And even in this world of which I'm not a part, there were moments I found myself relating to quite well - like the scene where we first meet a bookish dude named Josh, who's basically me if I hadn't quit studying computer science (and if I liked John Green.) Or the scene where Laney talks about how high school doesn't really have CW-esque cliques, that different types of students can and do hang out together. It's true - when I was in high school, you wouldn't have thought there would be jocks in honors and/or AP classes, and yet, there were quite a few. Then there's the presentation of the symptom list for borderline personality disorder. I don't have all of them, but I do have a lot of them. (Does "substance abuse" count for caffeine, though? Given how I spent over 100 bucks on Starbucks this May alone, my parents - who've since demanded I tighten my budget for all the things - would say so.) And speaking of parents, an early line about Laney's mom projecting her psych issues on her daughter resonated with me too much, because that's the way I feel about my own mom sometimes.
After following Elliot Wake on Twitter and Instagram for a few months (if you don't, you're doing yourself a serious disservice) and taking inspiration from him and his story to write an FTM character into my own books after debating the idea in my head for months, I felt I needed to read his books, though they're not exactly my cup of tea. I'm thinking Black Iris, however, is going to be my favorite of the three he wrote and published as Leah Raeder, not only for the twisting, out-of-order storytelling, but also for its addictive style, laden as it is with wolf metaphors (Teen Wolf fan, hello!) and insight into the mind of a creative writer. And also because, as I understand it, this book appears to be the start of a fictional universe he's building, and will explore further in his upcoming Bad Boy, for which I really hope my library orders copies so I don't have to special order it from San Francisco like I did for this book and Unteachable, which is waiting in my TBR pile. (Still need to order Cam Girl, but I will soon.)
And on another note - I swear to God I didn't copy Wake's cover art style for my own books. Though those books of mine are only on Wattpad yet, and will no doubt have significantly different covers if and when they get formally published.
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