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.
Do you know that song Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics? There’s a part that goes:
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused
I feel like these lyrics are in the same vein as Black Iris.
Black Iris challenged me as a reader. Perhaps Black Iris has challenged me more than any book has to date. It wasn’t because of the characters, or its themes, or its writing – all of them and every aspect of the book was excellent. After much contemplation on why, exactly, Black Iris was such a difficult book, my conclusion is this: This book is so wonderfully crafted, so masterfully written, so bitterly real, and just so bloody fantastic that I was thrown headfirst into a world that I did not, could not, have ever dreamed of. It’s not fantasy or supernatural – it is as realistic as it gets. And that is what pulls you in.
This is a forewarning: Black Iris contains drug use and abuse, sexual content, and violence. So, let that be a trigger warning to any readers out there who may need it.
A few minutes into the book, it is made clear that this book is not about character growth. It is not about overcoming. It is not about change and becoming better. It is about the dark sanctums of the soul filled with chaos, shadows that win, people who do not want to be found, and people who thrive on vengeance, destruction, and human savagery. At the same time, Black Iris explores sexuality and its fluidity, the stigma and challenges of being genderqueer and non-heterosexual in a heteronormative society, and mental illness and the effect it has on the individual and the family. Black Iris vividly illustrates that there is no limit to suffering and pain, and that people can hold an infinite stretch of hell within them. Underneath the pandemonium, Black Iris is brilliantly profound and a vital piece of non-heteronormative narrative — and when it isn’t, it is beautiful like summer’s last light, lyrically dark and vicious, and – because it’s Raeder – incredibly sexy.
What makes Black Iris the animal that it is is its characters. The main character, Laney, has a soul that runs on vengeance, love, and a twisted sense of justice. There were times when I empathized with Laney, and times when I read her narrative from an emotional distance with a slight tint of admiration. And then you have Armin, who is like smoke, and Blythe, as destructive and dazzling as wildfire. Sometimes I found myself tangled in the relationships Raeder developed between Armin and Blythe; other times I felt like an observer intruding in an intimacy beyond me. Regardless, Raeder crafts and explores unconventional, complex relationships fueled by tension, lust, desire, and guilt. Between them is a valley of unspoken words, a solace and connection that cannot be explained with mere words, and an intensity that is overwhelming but so addictive. Most of all, the characters felt real, alive.
‘Intense’ is probably the word I would use to describe Black Iris. Reading this was like living on a limited air supply; it leaves you in a state of breathlessness and keeps you at the edge. Earlier, I said that this book challenged me as a reader because of how immersive and absorbing it was. Reading Black Iris made me feel like I was living Laney’s life. And the truth is that I could never live her life – never wear her vindictiveness, her unforgiving and calculating ways, her life that is in constant flux.
And yet, I did. I experienced all the secondhand desire, thrill, suspense, and anger. It was jarring, terrifying, but absolutely amazing. I was thrust into another world – a world of darkness that I will otherwise never see with my own eyes. It is a rude awakening, an evocative narrative that takes your limbs, emotions, and soul through a vivid, lucid dream. Black Iris is a lens into the animal within us that operates on unapologetic hedonism. There will be times where looking into this mirror of a book will be uncomfortable and unsettling. It certainly unsettled me. Black Iris portrays the human condition in its utmost rawest form – the part we suppress, prone to regression, vulnerability, and a deep insatiable hunger. You either welcome this call for self-analysis, or you don’t (and perhaps miss out on what is fantastic about this book). Black Iris challenged me as a reader because it challenged me as a person. And I loved that it did that to me.
Black Iris is the sort of book that you read to feel and experience — and what a unique and provoking experience, it was. Though at times overwhelmingly dark and heavy, Black Iris is all at once an important genderqueer narrative, exploration on sexuality and mental illness, a lingering gaze into the depth of the human mind, and, simply put, a gorgeously written and fantastic book.
Book Name: Black Iris
Author: Leah Raeder