Book review: "Cam Girl" by Leah Raeder

“Hate is when you love someone but wish you didn't.” 

Guys, are you aware that I love Leah Raeder? You should be by now. And as an aside, I'm so happy and proud for him as he transitions to his truest self, Elliot Wake, who is a snappy and dapper AF dresser, FYI.

Raeder's latest is Cam Girl, and as usual, it's a doozy. Cam Girl has all the hallmarks of a Raeder novel — obsessive love, lyrical and hallucinogenic prose, flawed heroines. But this is my favorite Raeder book. There's a million reasons why. For one thing, Vada Bergen, the narrator, is a Latina, and even as a Latina and a minority, I've only just recently begun to appreciate how important representation is (how weird is it that I'm a minority and I still find myself having to remind myself to include non-white characters, just because whiteness is so prevalent in literature? It's so telling).

"My love is savage and rapacious. It isn’t content to touch. It wants to be inside, crawl into the marrow, caress each vein until the cells are all mixed up and there is no you and me anymore, no secrets or shadows sliding between our skin."

For another thing, Vada is kind of an asshole. Which I so relate to. I should back up at this point and give a synopsis of the plot, right? OK. Plot. Vada Bergen is an artist whose entire reality is torn apart in a tragic car accident that causes her to lose function in her drawing hand and that wrecks the fraught relationship between her and her best friend/soulmate/sparring partner Ellis. Ellis and Vada clearly belong together, but like I said, Vada is an asshole, and she thinks that their intense sexual connection is just experimentation and hopes to one day have an idyllic, superhetero wedding in which poor Ellis will serve as the maid of honor (like I said — she's an asshole. But I still love her).

So Vada loses everything and everyone, and she's broke, and she's an outcast in her family, so when she's evicted from her place and approached by some sexy entrepreneurs who want to make her a cam girl, she thinks, hey, why not? Little does she know that camming will bring her face to face with the darkest recesses of herself, reunite her with Ellis, and introduce her to Blue, a patron who wants her all to himself.

“Was that what I’d have to do? Pry my ribs open and see whose hands fit, whose fingers were stained with the same red inside me?”

Cam Girl is about so many things, like every Raeder novel. It's about complicated love. It's a love triangle — but like any Raeder book, not like the kind of love triangle you expect. It's about disability, marginalization, reinvention, gender identity, sexual identity. You can't characterize Vada and Ellis as a healthy relationship, but something about it is just right. And Blue helps Vada heal, but how real can a relationship be behind a screen?

I loved going into the world of a cam girl, a profession full of taboo that most of us wouldn't even dare entertain venturing into. You can tell Raeder really researched the profession and managed to capture the sexiness of it without sensationalizing it.

Cam Girl is romantic as hell and probably the gooey-ooeyist of Raeder novels. Unteachable was stunning but gave me the squicks because it's about a teacher and a student, duh. Black Iris was violent and gave me nightmares, but like really interesting nightmares. Cam Girl, no spoilers, has the cutest and happiest of endings and is the first Raeder novel where I really rooted for the main character and love interest (and I won't tell you which of the two love interests!).

Who should read Cam Girl? Anyone interested in learning about people on the trans spectrum, anyone who appreciates steamy romance, anyone who loves damn good writing. Anyone, really. Raeder/Wake groupie for life, yo.

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