LUSTER BOOK REVIEW (spoilers alert)

We're kicking it off with BGB's first book review - Raven Leilani's debut novel - Luster!

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WHO WROTE IT AND WHAT'S IT ABOUT?


Published in the chaos that was 2020, Luster is a breath of fresh air and deliciously scandalous, this book is a deep exploration, or rather a warning of what can happen when you’re young, trying to figure it all out, and seeking affection in all the wrong places. Raven Leilani's debut novel is highly acclaimed, full of thrills, scandal and bound to give you high blood pressure a few times along the way!


This was at times uncomfortable to read and made me cringe in some places, but that is what made it a page-turner for me! Never have I ever read the protagonist so chaotic, and unwilling to change or make the right decisions, but I still found myself rooting for her, hoping she would learn her lessons through her mistakes and gripped to the story with every turn of the page.


Leilani writes an unapologetically flawed, brutally problematic character in Edie, a 23-year-old young Black woman in New York. Navigating her catastrophic dating life as she chooses the wrong men, trying not to lose a job that doesn't fulfil her, jarring office and racial politics at every step of the way has Edie feeling like she's about to be pushed over the edge.

Edie's newfound 'failure' at the one thing she loves - painting, plays a part in her low self worth and self-esteem as this happens at a time when everything seems to be falling apart. The one thing she knew about herself, she's now unsure of, no wonder she's confused and disillusioned. Will she ever make sense of this chaos?

“I’m an open book,” I say, thinking of all the men who have found it illegible.”

Edie has never had much luck with men, so when she becomes entangled with Eric, an older white man in an open marriage, and doesn’t lock it off, it becomes clear our girl isn’t about to start making good decisions any time soon. The fact Eric doesn't make himself available to her quickly and this only makes Edie want him more foreshadows how problematic things are going to get. They haven't even met yet and she's already showing signs of neediness. The fact that Eric's wife Rebecca has strict rules for their open marriage that they must follow all makes our Edie a little more needy and slightly obsessive.


After eventually losing her editing job and barely being able to get by, Edie has extra time on her hands. So naturally she finds herself uninvited at Eric's house that he shares with his wife where she gets caught red-handed by his shocked wife, Rebecca (what did she think would happen?!). In a strange turn of events, Edie is invited to stay in their house by Rebecca, with the couple and their adopted Black daughter Akila, which comes as a surprise to her lover.

“As a rule, I try to avoid popping that dusky cherry. I cannot be the first black girl a white man dates. I cannot endure the nervous renditions of backpacker rap, the conspicuous effort to be colloquial, or the smugness of pink men in kente cloth.”

Eric is horrified by the friendship Edie seems to have built with his spouse in his absence and so he freezes her out while she is still living under his roof. Alongside this mess, Edie has also been recruited as some sort of mentor for their purple-wig-wearing adopted Black daughter who is having an identity crisis growing up with two white parents in suburbia. There's an incident with the police in which Edie and Akila are singled out which echoes the problematic situation.


Edie is seeking a human connection that feels real, and Leilani has written her in a way that has allowed her main character to make mistakes, and to show she is still vulnerable. This is also a story of survival as Edie is a struggling young Black woman trying to survive, after having been fired she is seeking a new job and knows she needs to get out from the strange suburbia situation she's in.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


I'll be honest, I thought Eric came off as kind of an a**, I didn't like him. I thought it was very weird of them (Rebecca and Eric) to have his lover be their daughter's kind of mentor. To coach her on how to care for her natural hair and repressing her abandonment issues. I understand Akila would have issues growing up the only Black child in white suburbia, but Edie has issues of her own and her 'parents' should take more of a role in making her feel comfortable in her identity.


I think to myself, You are a desirable woman. You are not a dozen gerbils in a skin casing.

WHAT I LOVED


This was at times uncomfortable to read and made me cringe in some places, but that is what made it a page-turner for me! Never have I ever read the protagonist so chaotic, and unwilling to change or make the right decisions, but I still found myself rooting for her, hoping she would learn her lessons through her mistakes and gripped to the story with every turn of the page.


Rebecca and Edie's relationship I found odd at first, but as it went on, although still definitely weird it became a kind of friendship, I wanted to say sisterhood but still feels weird to me. I love the way this is written, it's an easy read, the pace is quick, although I feel like the story slows towards the middle.



SO SHOULD I READ IT OR NOT SIS?


Absolutely! Raven Leilani writes about things we aren't used to seeing been written in a debut novel. She definitely takes a risk but I promise you it pays off!



*FUN FACT* Zadie Smith was Raven Leilani’s former tutor and mentor at NYU!



If you’ve already read it, what did you think?


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