Black Iris by Leah Raeder

Black IrisBlack Iris by Leah Raeder
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

Two girls, cherry-mouthed, glitter-lashed, our skin luminous with moonlight and sweat, making out beneath pennants that still shivered with the afternoon’s boy bravado.
If only you bastards could see me now.

You want to know the bad thing about this book? I must have spent hours trying to single out the quotes I wanted to use from all this BLOODY PERFECT writing. It’s like Leah Raeder thinks about every single word – simultaneously telling a story AND writing poetry. It’s after books like this that my words seem inadequate, but I have to review this somehow… I’ll try my best to do it justice.

For a start, this book is nothing like Unteachable; in fact, it’s just a completely different animal. The pretty writing style is still there, but this book is much darker, more painful and more, um… important, I guess. It’s nasty and there are no heroes and villains, just some majorly screwed up, complex and way too relatable characters.

I have gone on and on about the author’s writing in my review of Unteachable and in the little pre-review I wrote for this book, but I have to reiterate again that her books are nothing short of intoxicating. That’s the perfect word for it. You close the book after the last page and it’s like coming down from some kind of crazy high/blood rush. So I have to take that feeling and try to sum up in a few mediocre sentences what is so amazing about Black Iris.

Atmospheric. That was a word I used for her first novel and I’m going to bring it up again. Though this book spans many months (in non-linear form), I especially love the way Leah Raeder captures that late summer feeling: it’s still warm, not quite as bright, the days are fading into darkness earlier and the happy memories of summer are behind you. It’s my favourite time of year but it also carries something melancholy about it. In Unteachable, I thought this was shown perfectly in the heady descriptions of the carnival. In Black Iris, summer becomes even more of a metaphor. Laney tells us:

The whole summer was inside of us.

And then later:

Leaves drifted from a tree. Everything was coming undone, tearing itself into little piles of red and gold. The slow disintegration of summer. The slow disintegration of my body as she pushed my legs apart, exhaled against me. I closed my eyes.

This book turned out to be a lot of things I wasn’t expecting. It’s a suspense novel that looks at the dark depths of the human mind; it’s also a contemporary that explores mental illness, intense female friendhsips, being gay, and not quite being able to fit yourself under any sexual label; and it’s also a love story, woven with references to poets and philosophers. There was never a dull moment.

As with Maise in Unteachable, Ms Raeder has crafted yet another unconventional (HELL YEAH) narrator who takes drugs, sleeps around, is easy to dislike at times, and still earned my sympathy. I like it when the heroine is a bit of a villain. I wonder what that says about me.

Girls get under each other’s skin. We get too close, too attached, too crazy, and then we can’t let go. Our claws sink too deep. When we separate, we tear each other apart.

I think it’s fascinating the way the lines between friendship and love are blurred in Black Iris. When I was growing up, the few female friendships I had tended to be intense. I think a lot of girls experience this, especially as teenagers. We’re very touchy-feely, we trust each other with our secrets and desires and it’s like hell has been unleashed on earth when we fall out. It was interesting, exciting and captivating to watch the relationship dynamic between Laney and Blythe. And I think I was a little bit in love with the latter too.

I haven’t said too much about the plot because you can read what the blurb tells you and I want to avoid spoilers. Also, I’m starting to realise that LR’s books are the kind that you remember most because of the way they made you feel, so I will just say that this book made me feel sad, angry, worried, excited, breathless, intrigued and thankful. Thankful that there are NA writers like Leah Raeder.

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