It’s easy to wax poetic about a favorite author or book. That’s even more true today, when showing your approval of something is as easy as clicking “Like” or posting relevant GIFs of swoony faces or crying Tobey Maguire.
But if there is a 2015 new adult novel that deserves all the hype and GIFs and five-star ratings, it’s Black Iris by Leah Raeder. Black Iris, set to release on April 28th, is a welcomed departure from a more conventional new adult story. It’s no secret I loved Raeder’s debut novel, Unteachable (I wrote about the book being my “book soul mate” here), but Raeder has really branched out with this unique second novel. You can tell right away – a book with a dedication page that reads “To all the girls I’ve loved” is sure to be an emotional roller coaster. And not in the weepy Nicholas Sparks’ way, either.
The protagonist – and self-proclaimed unreliable narrator – of Black Iris is Laney Keating. She wants you to understand something right off the bat:
I am not the heroine of this story.
And I’m not trying to be cute. It’s the truth. I’m diagnosed borderline and seriously fucked-up. I hold grudges. I bottle my hate until it ferments into poison, and then I get high off the fumes. I’m completely dysfunctional and that’s the way I like it, so don’t expect a character arc where I finally find Redemption, Growth, and Change, or learn How to Forgive Myself and Others.
Laney Keating feels a darkness inside of her, planted at birth by her mother. She struggles with this darkness, but she loves it, too. She describes her actions in violent terms: she bites, she draws blood. She is fierce, and unapologetic, and I became addicted to her manner of storytelling.
Laney befriends two enchanting figures: strong, serious Armin and flirtatious, temperamental Blythe – and the three of them enter into an intense friendship. Bonds are formed, lines are crossed, and all along, Laney nurses her desire for revenge against the people who have harmed her. When Armin and Blythe, loyal and both a little bit in love with her, offer to help her carry out her plans, it alters their relationships and their lives forever.
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.
Black Iris is actually one of the first books I’ve read that centrally focuses on a girl/girl relationship, and it’s certainly one of the first new adult books that I’ve come across. I thought the connection between Laney and Blythe was perfect. Throughout the novel Laney struggles with her identity – sexual and otherwise – and I am so glad to see that there are books entering the mainstream that tackle these themes. Leah Raeder wrote a great post on her blog about sexuality in Black Iris, so I’ll let her do the talking here. I know the new adult market (which is, let’s face it, new) is still just starting to see diversity in its characters and topics – but I know with books like Black Iris and authors like Leah Raeder, things are finally getting interesting – and it’s beautiful and inspiring and very, very cool. But I don’t just want to praise the relationships in the story for being “different” from other new adult relationships – the author makes the connections between people so intriguing and intoxicating, it’s easy to understand the attraction. I found myself falling for Armin and Blythe along with Laney. They are physically beautiful; Leah Raeder describes bodies in such a stunning way. They are intelligent, and their dialogue is razor-sharp.
Black Iris woke me up as a reader and forced me to focus and think and feel, and I struggled along with Laney on her journey. It was an intense, emotional reading experience, and it took me a long time to process my feelings. I’d say that’s the mark of a good book, wouldn’t you?
On a final note: if you’re looking for a book with dreamy landscapes and startling, colorful imagery: Black Iris is totally for you. You may think that the sky’s been described in just about every way it can be described, but here’s Leah Raeder, shaking things up again. And thank goodness for that.