Tuesday, May 19, 2015

REVIEW: Black Iris by Leah Raeder

Shel: I've read this book several times now and you'd think that it wouldn't impact me as much as it now as it did the first time I read it, but it does. I find myself sitting completely still as the world moves in time lapse speed around me and all I do is hear the echoes of the voices of Laney in my head. Court: I am so ready to read it again. And pay closer attention, even though I tried so hard to absorb every single detail the first time around! All I can say is whoa!

First things first, if you haven't heard about Black Iris here's a look at what it's about:

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.

Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 28th 2015 by Atria
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Purchase a copy: Goodreads | Amazon

Here are SOME of the reasons why I loved Black Iris:

1. Shel: Laney is the antiheroine I've been looking for, for years. I was actually begging someone about a year ago to write a badass antiheroine. I asked this same person to write a badass heroine who was bi or trans or queer or anything other than a straight, white female. The answer I kept receiving was that traditional publishing would't even think about it..that we weren't far enough along in our reading preferences...that people wouldn't buy the book. Well to that person who said it couldn't be done, guess what?! YOU CAN SUCK IT. Leah Raeder gave me a badass heroine. She gave me an antiheroine whose sexuality was fluid. She gave me a woman who was fucked up and wonderful and I loved every word of Laney's narrative, even as I cringed. Court: And guess what else? She is all of these things, AND traditional publishing took a chance on it. I am in awe of this book. I have been thinking about it, and thinking about it and I am trying so hard to describe how much I feel for Black Iris, but not spoil the story. I think there are things you should know going in. Laney is not kidding that she is anti-heroine to the MAX. She is bad, and conflicted, and on drugs, and just so hard to like...but there are reasons for these choices, and these reasons are necessary to be read, discussed and engaged.

Shel: And as I loved Laney, I despised her for things. As I hurt for her, I cheered for her. I felt protective of her. I admired her. And I know that some readers will not get my love for Laney; they will see all of the fucked up things she did and not be able to get over those things--they'll find her motives questionable and her decisions maniacal and they'll hate her. Meanwhile, I see what she did and think: FINALLY. Court: I LOVE HOW YOUR THOUGHTS LINE UP SO WELL WITH MINE! OMG. So, yes, I have seen reviews out there that take her plight, and water it down, and make it seem like there isn't substance to this story. I find that to be wrong and untrue, and while I like to value everyone's opinion out there...I just can't with this book. There are things that should be taken as fiction, but also times when you realize that the psyche is a scary dark place, and one can never know what might come out of it, and well, yeah...there is Black Iris, and Laney and Blythe and Armin have adventures most wouldn't. But I devoured their story.

Shel: 2. Blythe and Armin--I have very complicated feelings for these two and I suppose that's because Laney has complicated feelings towards them too. I loved Blythe's loyalty and fierce love for Laney. I thought I loved Armin for his acquiescence to Laney--his ability to let her be who she was--but that changed for me. FOR REASONS (that shall remain unnamed for now). I loved how Raeder played with gender stereotypes with these two--for once we had a Blythe who was strong and wild and never gentle and we had an Armin who was tender and sweet and delicate--and those roles really never changed (thank fuck). Court: My feelings are complicated for this entire book, but it is because there really is no such thing as black and white. There are gray areas of like and dislike for almost every single character, and that is hard for people...but I find diverse, complicated, and deeply conflicted, dare I say human characters to be my most favorite...and I found Armin and Blythe to be two very opposite sides of a coin, and I thought their contributions were awesome!

Shel: 3. Caitlin broke me. The first time I read Black Iris she kind of snagged at the edges of my consciousness and I couldn't quite put my finger on how I felt about her. I still definitely have conflicted feelings about her but I now found myself so very sad for her by the end of this novel. I guess this is probably going to be an unpopular opinion but I didn't hate her. I felt for her. I understood her explanations about why she refused certain treatments and I wanted to believe that she really loved her children. The tough part is, of course, how to feel about all of her selfishness..and AGAIN, I have mixed feelings. As a mother, I know how hard it is to balance the needs of your family with the needs for yourself and how it's never really balanced; someone always has to pay or to sacrifice or to lose something and with that comes gains and successes and joy (but honestly some days it feels like you're circling the drain with no way out).  So when I think about Caitlin I think it's hard for me to separate what I know from being a parent and whether or not I can justify her actions. I keep going back to some of the things she said to or about Laney and how much she really knew of Laney and I'm left with some really strong emotions. Court: I loved her character if not for the simple fact that she should spark a huge conversation for mental illness, and come from the prospective of a teen with a parent going through it, and how hard that is. I can't even imagine it, but I know that it is a real thing for kids, and I hope that there is someone out there that can read this, and find peace and hope in it that they aren't alone.

Shel: 4. The supporting cast of characters features one person from Unteachable and two new characters--one of whom I sometimes detested and sometimes I "got" and another one whom I loved. These three people added tension, hatred, comedy, and compassion to this revenge novel and without them, this novel would fall down like a house of cards build on shag carpeting. I loved the dimension they added. Court: The supporting characters add so much richness to the story, and each of their "human-ness" is so gut wrenching and cringe worthy sometimes. I say human-ness because it is a thing. This isn't a fairy tale, nor does it have rose-tinted glasses for you to look through. The rawness on these pages honestly gives me hope for honesty in relationships even when it hurts.

Shel: 5. Fluid sexuality and mental illness are two things that are becoming less taboo in the NA genre but until Black Iris, many of the novels that incorporated it seemed to incorporate these in a stereotypical or exploitative manner. Being in Laney's head and heart and experiencing/reading/thinking about how she felt and her explanations for who she was and who the people she loved were to her/for her was enlightening. I found myself nodding my head every time she delved into these things. I appreciated the way she described things and I kept thinking about ways to sneak this novel into my students' bags because I want them to know...to see...to feel represented and to know that adults get it and support them. Court: Oh, gosh, that is the most important thing isn't it. I am still in awe of everything I've read here. Even without the complexity of the plotlines, which are brilliant, the themes are BIG, guys. BIG! Fluid sexuality! Whoa. This is so, so, so, so brilliant. I hope there are young people out there that will read this, and realize that labels are to bed shed and defied, and Leah Raeder...thank you. As for the mental illness, which I have much more of a personal relationship with...thank you Leah for that too. There are too many times that this is looked down  upon and is misunderstood. Fleshing it out when it hurts takes courage and I love the honesty it brings again 

Shel: 6. Of course I love the writing in this book. The pacing, the phrasing, the dialogue, the literary references (OMG--that Laney is a writer and Blythe a poet!!!), and the way the plot pieces all come together are all perfect. The repeated motifs really worked for me and added an entire literary layer to this novel that I truly appreciated. Court: OMIGOD...the literary references. I am still in AWE, because one of our antiheroes who is a big part of this, and DEFINITELY has me having complicated feelings about him...quotes things with Laney even in the darkest moments of her spiral AND MAKES ME FEEL LOTS OF THINGS! Have I told you yet that I love Leah? Yes. Want me to shut up? Not happening ever! 

Shel: I suppose I should probably begin compiling my thoughts for my dissertation on the works of Leah Raeder because that's what it feels like I'm leading up to with every review I write on her books. In the meantime if you like an unrepentant, undeterred, antiheroine who has a single minded focus on revenge and does not shy away from who she is, I really think Black Iris is something you MUST read. Court: This paragraph sums it up perfectly. Maybe we should've started with that. However, if you made it this far, I hope you check out this novel and are open minded, and even more so put through the wringer of this deeply complex New Adult read, that is unapologetic and unwavering in it's journey to make you love the most Unreliable of Heroines. I bow down to the brilliance of this story. I need to read it again and again. 

Find Leah here: Website | Fan Group |FB Author Page | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Pinterest | Tumbler

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