Book Review: Black Iris by Leah Raeder

Posted April 24, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 4 Comments

Black Iris

by Leah Raeder

Black Iris

Expected Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Length: 368 pages
Obtained Via: I was given an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
Publisher: Atria

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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.


“Maybe the only person who could understand a villain was another villain.”

I didn’t read Raeder’s previous book, Unteachable, because I didn’t think I would like it due to the premise, but I heard promising things about her writing in general. So when I saw the synopsis for Black Iris I HAD to read it. I mean, is that not something that makes you have grabby hands right away? So as soon as I had access to the title, I jumped right in. While my reading experience and thoughts on this book were incredibly mixed, I’m glad I picked it up and read it.

The prose in Black Iris is incredibly beautiful. I was constantly abusing the highlighting feature on my kindle. I knew the writing could be good when Laney describes herself as “the bad girl with a handgun for a heart” early on in the story.  There was one scene where the main characters were at a club, and Raeder described the energy with such style and passion that I instantly wanted to be there, to go and find a place just like it, until I remembered that oh yeah, I actually hate dancing. I had gotten so pulled in to the description and pulled out of myself, and that’s not an easy feat. It takes talent(and make no mistake, Raeder has a ton of that).

However. . . I thought sometimes the pacing suffered at the expense of the prose. I’m the kind of reader who loves metaphors and figurative language. Give me sentences that fill a page with description, and I’ll be happy, but that doesn’t mean I want five drawn-out metaphors in a row. And some of the symbolism was so overt that it lost all its effectiveness on me. I’m pretty sure Laney is compared to a wolf(or compares herself to a wolf) no less than TEN times within the book. After a while my eyes started glazing over when those symbols came up and in my head I was thinking “yes, yes, I get it, you’re the big bad wolf in this story, will you please tell me the actual story now?”

On that note, the fourth wall gets absolutely shattered in this book. Not only is the fourth wall broken, but the fourth wall breakage is explicitly named as such. On its own that wouldn’t bother me, but I thought it was unnecessary because when the fourth wall was broken, it was always to tell the reader things that should be shown instead. Laney says that she’s an unlikable character, not the heroine, an unreliable narrator, etc. Um, I’m reading the book, I KNOW all that. I can figure that out for myself without the explicit help of the main character. There’s even a scene where the main character is in a lecture class and the topic just so happens to be relevant to the plot, of course. Those sort of scenes should stay in the realm of B-rated horror flicks, not a story worthy of the caliber of Raeder’s writing. The scene was totally unnecessary, and it’s the only time the reader actually sees any of these college kids going to class. Mostly, I felt I was being told things I wanted to be shown.

I should mention that despite my complaints, I was completely into the revenge plot. Laney isn’t messing around, y’all, and as a reader neither was I. When the plot was moving forward at a good pace(around the 40% mark onward), I could not get enough of wondering what exactly Laney was scheming and who she was really taking revenge on. Laney has had some pretty messed up things happen to her in the past, and it was fascinating to see the layers peeled back to reveal who Laney was. Parts of it–such as the borderline sociopath grooming the girl to live dangerously and recklessly, to feel freedom by disobeying social norms–reminded me of Dangerous Boys, and though I thought that plot line was done slightly better there, Black Iris took it further, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I also really enjoyed the then/now style of the story. I read some reviews that weren’t a huge fan of the timeline-jumping, but I’ve read a lot of books that follow that format, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of Black Iris, it worked. It really gave more depth to Laney’s motivation and left me hungering for more. Though I’m not really sure why this is being marketed as NA. Half of the book takes place when Laney’s in high school, and I think it read more as an adult thriller than anything else. Which I suppose there could be NA thrillers, it just didn’t read like NA to me–though it should be noted that I’m not an expert in the least, but the timeline did make me question the designation(I should note that my NA question has nothing to do with my rating, but it was something I wanted to point out).

Also I want to make sure I talk about the relationships in this book, because they were intense. Despite the revenge plot, Black Iris is very much character-focus. The vengeance storyline wouldn’t work the same way without these particular characters. They were all damaged & flawed, but boy did they ever leap off the page. Everything tied together in such a twisted way, and it was thoroughly satisfying in a very screwed-up way. If it hadn’t been for the characters and prose, I might have set the book down early on, but I kept going & while I’m still not entirely sold on this book, I’m really glad I read it.


Oh, Black Iris. There were times I loved this book & times I didn’t. Raeder succeeded at one thing–she definitely made me feel things(including in the author’s note at the end of the book, which I think affected me more than the book itself and made me tear up). I can quite honestly see myself re-reading this book in the future and having a very different opinion–it’s the kind of story that never feels like it’s quite finished being told. That being said, there were some things that annoyed me greatly. I don’t normally give out half-ratings, but I think this one would be a 3.5/5 cupcakes, though closer to 3 cupcakes than 4.




3 Stars

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4 responses to “Book Review: Black Iris by Leah Raeder

  1. I can understand why you thought the metaphors were a bit over the top. I read this one earlier this month and I loved it. For me, I thought the pacing was great. 🙂

    • Stormy

      I mean, I definitely understand why it’s getting so many good reviews! It was just a little over-the-top for me.

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