Title: Cam Girl
Author: Leah Raeder
Rating: 4 Stars
I never know what to say about a Leah Raeder novel. It made me uncomfortable. It was difficult to read because I kept wanting to stop, to leave these messy, unlikable characters with their dark flaws in the pages of the book. It made me think, late into the night, unable to make sense of myself, the characters, or the world. And all of these are good. It is so rare to find a book that makes me reflect, that forces me to take a long time anguishing over the language, that genuinely shoves me outside of my comfort zone.
I both love and hate Raeder for her ability to do this; I relate to aspects of her novels, always, but I always want them to be a little less dark and messy and them so they can fit into the tropes I know and am comfortable with. I am so very glad that Raeder does not do this disservice. Not to me and not to her readers. She writes the stories she wants to write--the stories she wishes were being told--and I applaud her for that. Plus, her prose is gorgeous and the topics she tackles are hard-hitting and challenging to understand and discuss in a complex manner, which she always manages to do. It's so rare to see queer characters--those who identify along the spectrum of "queer" and do not always fit into the categories of LGBT but rather LGBTQIA--and I am so grateful that Raeder writes the diverse stories she does.
This doesn't mean that I loved Cam Girl without reservation or would even read it again--I wouldn't--but it does mean that it made me re-consider a wide range of topics I simply hadn't spent too much time thinking about. Whether it be gender, sexuality, or the sex trade, Raeder covers so much in this novel--densely packing it with meaning and feeling--and I can't really describe or fully discuss it without ruining the story. Raeder almost has too much going on--Vada, the main character loses function of her right hand in a car accident, disabling her for life and ending the career she thought she had as an artist. But Vada is also in love with her best friend, Ellis, yet she clings on to the hope of a future where she marries a man. And then Vada and Ellis have a falling out--over Vada, the accident, the true story of that night--and Vada is approached by two young entrepreneurs to cam for them. From there, the story only gets more complicated--Vada's empowerment and agency through her role as a cam girl, her feelings for Ellis which won't abate, her involvement with Max, the father of the boy who was killed the night of the accident, and then her late-night chats with "Blue" who pays her for her time and thoughts, not her camming skills.
It's intense, it's messy, and I wish Raeder had taken on a little less, only so that I could fully wrap my mind around it all. But, it works. It definitely works and its message is strong, beautiful, and full of hope. Needless to say, for readers familiar with Raeder's work and her brand of dark--as in mentally, emotionally dark, going to places you won't be familiar with, necessarily--and fans of Black Iris, Raeder's latest is definitely up your alley. I'd suggest readers new to Raeder's work to pick up Unteachable first--it's the most heteronormative and familiar of her works to other New Adult tropes--but if you're looking for New Adult that explores disability and difficult topics of LGBTQIA then this is a must-read. I don't look forward, necessarily, to what Raeder is putting out next but I'm eager to pick up yet another thought-provoking, emotional read by her.
I just want to add a quick note that I am aware that Leah Raeder now goes by the name Elliot Wake and that Elliot also now uses the pronouns he/him/his. However, when I wrote this review it was before Leah had begun publishing books under the name Elliot, hence the different pronouns/names in this review. I mean absolutely no disrespect to Elliot Wake but as Elliot has continued to use his previous name on the covers of his older titles, I assumed it would be alright to use the name Leah and the pronouns she/her/hers, as when I wrote this review. If anyone knows otherwise, let me know and I will absolutely change it.