Published by: Atria
WARNING: This is a New Adult book, which means that it features scenes that may be considered too much for younger readers.
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.
Here's the thing about BLACK IRIS: It's dark. Really dark. Challenging. Radical. With any book that points out less palatable genre conventions(e.g. "magic dick lit"), and makes you aware that it is doing so (e.g. the fourth wall is down), and features questionable ethics and/or young people acting out when all the adults want them to conform to standards, you can expect some sort of polarized reaction. That's why, when scrolling through Goodreads, you'll see lovers and haters and people in between who just haven't decided where they lie on that spectrum.
Here's another thing to consider: This reads like Leah Raeder's heart book. Some books feel dry, stale; you wonder why the author even wrote the book if he/she wasn't passionate about it, or was just passionate about the topic and not the characters. But, every once in a while, you'll read a book that brims with sincerity and passion, and even if you don't have a character who says that the fourth wall is down, you already know that the fourth wall is down because here is the author, in every page. Those are always my favorites to read because there's a good chance the author has considered every word and action, and your emotions are going to get tangled in the words. The book will evoke some sort of reaction in you (rather than being another "meh" read).
There are a lot of things I could say about BLACK IRIS. As a suspense novel, it does its job well. The unreliable narrator? Very well established and definitely made it harder to predict where things were going and what would happen next. As a romance novel, it does its job well. The sex scenes are… wow. And in Leah’s poetic voice? They feel ALIVE. As a new adult novel, it does its job well. The characters are balancing college classes and deeper issues (e.g. their pasts & futures) amid the main plot. Plus contemporary romance, y’know.
But what I most want to say doesn’t really have to do with the actual plot or the very well developed characters. It has to do with the lovely moments of realization and deeper issues being tackled in BLACK IRIS.
It’s rare to find a book that handles mental illness, gender and sexual identity among other issues so well, so boldly, and so fearlessly. Especially a book with younger characters. When I was in college, one of the labs I was in, its main purpose was to “unbox science.” We were researching the queer community and one of the questionnaires asked participants to rate themselves on a sliding scale for how they viewed their gender and sexual identity, and if that scale didn’t fit, there was another area where participants could explain. If they wanted to label themselves, they could. It was meant to give participants their voices back in the science community and to allow them the chance to define themselves, but the irony was that once it came to analysis, we had to find a way to compress the scales and numbers and labels. Maybe it was too ambitious of a project, but maybe this is where art like BLACK IRIS comes in to bridge that gap. And BLACK IRIS addresses this in many beautiful moments.
“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.”As for how BLACK IRIS handled mental illness, my god. I cried. Actual tears. I'm emphasizing that because it is SO rare for me to actually cry while reading. Let's see... North of Beautiful by Justina Chen; Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling; The Bridge of Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. These are the novels that I can name off the top of my head which have made me cry. I don’t have the book with me right now, but there’s a moment when Laney talks about feeling all the pressure build up and just cracking. That's it. That's what I became in that moment too.
But you know, it’s not even how BLACK IRIS handles social issues that should make it really popular. It’s the beautiful writing at the moments on characters and character realizations.
“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.”This quote is tagged as an example of Laney and Blythe together, but whenever Laney talked about the relationships between girls, I found myself nodding. Whenever Laney talked about love and forgiveness and gender expectations – and so, so many other things – I found myself nodding. Leah Raeder has a beautiful writing style and one of the things I most appreciate in novels – these little observations about life – was done perfectly by her hand. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with what the characters do, it doesn’t matter. This book captivated me from start to finish.
So, I mean, what am I really saying here? We have a book that's thought-provoking and likely to manipulate your emotions, beautiful writing, wonderful moments of life truths. In short, even if you don't like revenge or suspense stories, or you don't want to read something that's very dark, or you don't tend to like "the typical NA" novel, you should still read BLACK IRIS. At the very least you know you'll have read something interesting.