You know what's impossible?
An exercise in humility?
Writing a review for anything Leah Raeder writes. I mean. WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK am I supposed to say that even pretends to accurately convey the mad, mad love I have for her novels? GAHHHHH.
...so here goes nothing.....
Why do I love Cam Girl? Let me point you to the synopsis and who wrote it and that'll give you a HUGE clue. But, since you may want to know more, here's why:
It feels groundbreaking. Maybe it's because I'm not as widely read as everyone else? Maybe I've lived a very sheltered reading life? Maybe I didn't know to look for books like this or that they existed? Or maybe it's groundbreaking. Or? All of the above. I don't know. I don't have all of the answers to how Leah Raeder continues to write books that are interesting, provoking, and that become a part of me, but she does.
There are so many things to love about Cam Girl.
I loved the way she teases out the story.
I love these friends turning into lovers.
I love that after the melancholia of Unteachable, the vengeance soaked Black Iris, we get something entirely new and yet entirely in that Leah Raeder lyrical style that I know and love.
I love the normalizing of sex workers. <--- I know I may catch some shit about this one, but I can't help it. I appreciate that she gives Vada a way to feel like she's regaining power and control over her life; whether this job of camming allows her to do so, some people may question, I suppose, but I see this new job of hers as something that gave her something that she needed, when she needed it. I think that when women make choices for themselves about their bodies, I don't have a right to judge.
I could truly go on and on about alllll of those things. But the thing that my heart and head keep going back to is this: the continuing dialogue between Vada and Blue and Ellis about gender and sexuality and friendships/relationships. What's going on between these characters is both complicated and simple; I felt like I could identify with how conflicted Vada was and how frustrated Ellis was and I loved the messiness of it. I loved that Leah Raeder didn't make it simple and straightforward and clear cut. Relationships are so messy and layered; they can make us feel vulnerable and exposed and like we're helpless against the power WE hand over when we enter into the relationship. I felt all of that and as frustrating as some may feel towards Vada, I identified with her so strongly --her problems and struggle to articulate what she was feeling and ....well, I just *got* her. The way Raeder put us in her head and showed us how simple and complicated it really was for her, was perfect.
And just as I *got* Vada, I keep coming back to Ellis because of her strength and bravery to live an authentic life and her deepest desire to have Vada live that life with her. The hurt she felt sometimes came pouring off the page in waves just felt so real and raw. And though I fell for Vada (and how infuriating she could be), over the series of reads I've done with this novel, I am so proud of Ellis and her willingness to continue to be who she needed and wanted to be. Vada may have pulsed off the page with her vibrancy in her pain and love and pursuit of truth, but Ellis had this quiet constancy and intensity that was a constant thrum in the background.
Another thing that felt so right and so real in Cam Girl was how Raeder described Vada's chronic pain. There's a point in the novel when Vada talks about pain in terms of the spoon theory and it was eye opening and heart wrenching. I actually had to put the book down and just let it soak in. I cannot even imagine how mentally and physically fatiguing it must be to know what you used to be able to do versus what you can now do and feel unable to do it, how to work with it or around it, and how to not be exceedingly bitter about it (this is my clumsy way of saying I admired Vada's honesty about how she felt about all of this). This novel took what I thought I knew and enhanced it, giving me new things to consider and respect about those around me living/coping/succeeding in living with seen and unseen disabilities.
A thread that runs through all of her novels, including this one, is how the world views and treats women. Never stop, Leah. And thank you.
And thank you for continuing to include women of color as important characters in your works. (Shout out to Frankie. I WANT HER STORY. OR HER. Can she be my girlfriend please?).
And last but not least, I cannot leave without talking about Leah Raeder's writing. The pacing is what I'd call a slow burn. It's definitely a page turner but it's not this fast paced commercial piece of fiction; it's definitely more literary and I love it for that. I love how she doesn't rush the story but lets it unravel so that we can feast on her beautiful prose, her geography porn, her inclusion of art and artistry, and all of the tough questions about life that she is asking us to consider. As I've said in past reviews, I'm a stickler for good dialogue and she's yet to fail me. The pacing and exposition in between characters speaking reads so naturally.
I love how with each new book, we get some of the things we've come to love about Raeder's style and we also cover new ground: gender fluidity, the shifting lines of friendships and lovers, and seeing women of color as powerful and determiners of their destinies all wrapped up in a beautiful love note to Maine.
Vada Bergen is broke, the black sheep of her family, and moving a thousand miles away from home for grad school, but she’s got the two things she loves most: her art and her best friend—and sometimes more—Ellis Carraway. Ellis and Vada have a friendship so consuming it’s hard to tell where one girl ends and the other begins. It’s intense. It’s a little codependent. And nothing can tear them apart.
Until an accident on an icy winter road changes everything.
Vada is left deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically. Her once-promising art career is cut short. And Ellis pulls away, unwilling to talk about that night. Everything Vada loved is gone.
She’s got nothing left to lose.
So when she meets some smooth-talking entrepreneurs who offer to set her up as a cam girl, she can’t say no. All Vada has to do is spend a couple hours each night stripping on webcam, and the “tips” come pouring in.
It’s just a kinky escape from reality until a client gets serious. “Blue” is mysterious, alluring, and more interested in Vada’s life than her body. Online, they chat intimately. Blue helps her heal. And he pays well, but he wants her all to himself. No more cam shows. It’s an easy decision: she’s starting to fall for him. But the steamier it gets, the more she craves the real man behind the keyboard. So Vada pops the question:
Can we meet IRL?
Blue agrees, on one condition. A condition that brings back a ghost from her past. Now Vada must confront the devastating secrets she's been running from—those of others, and those she's been keeping from herself...
About Leah Raeder:
LEAH RAEDER is a writer and unabashed nerd. Aside from reading her brains out, she enjoys graphic design, video games, fine whiskey, and the art of self-deprecation. She lives with her very own manic pixie dream boy in Chicago.
(And she still writes pretentiously lyrical fiction.)