Vada Bergen is broke, the black sheep of her family, and moving a thousand miles away from home for grad school, but she’s got the two things she loves most: her art and her best friend—and sometimes more—Ellis Carraway. Ellis and Vada have a friendship so consuming it’s hard to tell where one girl ends and the other begins. It’s intense. It’s a little codependent. And nothing can tear them apart.
Until an accident on an icy winter road changes everything.
Vada is left deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically. Her once-promising art career is cut short. And Ellis pulls away, unwilling to talk about that night. Everything Vada loved is gone.
She’s got nothing left to lose.
So when she meets some smooth-talking entrepreneurs who offer to set her up as a cam girl, she can’t say no. All Vada has to do is spend a couple hours each night stripping on webcam, and the “tips” come pouring in.
It’s just a kinky escape from reality until a client gets serious. “Blue” is mysterious, alluring, and more interested in Vada’s life than her body. Online, they chat intimately. Blue helps her heal. And he pays well, but he wants her all to himself. No more cam shows. It’s an easy decision: she’s starting to fall for him. But the steamier it gets, the more she craves the real man behind the keyboard. So Vada pops the question:
Can we meet IRL?
Blue agrees, on one condition. A condition that brings back a ghost from her past. Now Vada must confront the devastating secrets she’s been running from—those of others, and those she’s been keeping from herself…
Where to begin?
Your best friend is your partner, right? The person you’ve lived with going on five years. Shared your life with. Shared everything with. Matching tattoos, an encyclopedia full of inside jokes, a scrapbook stuffed with memories. The person whose heart you know better than your own. Because you’ve listened to it so many nights, that fierce tapping against your ear, your jaw.
I found this book much less dark than Black Iris – that’s not to say it doesn’t contain dark elements of self-loathing and self-destruction and lies and screwed up people making bad decisions and general WTFery – because it does – but while Black Iris had an overall pervasive aura of darkness, I would say that Cam Girl felt more moody – as in atmospheric, not grumpy teenager. I think the pain in this book was subtler, less overt.
Do you know how much blood is soaked into every mile of asphalt, how many graves you drive over each morning on your way to work?
The two main focuses in this book are, firstly, coming to terms with one’s sexuality, and secondly, gender identity, gender fluidity, and the associated issues when one doesn’t fit neatly into one specific category. The gender aspect is heavily emphasised near the end, and while I think the author really spelt it out for us in a way that might seem heavy handed, I can understand why – we need to be clear and outspoken on issues that are usually swept under the rug, or couched in euphemisms. We need honest discussions. We need to really outline and explain things for people who aren’t so clued up on gender identity and the like so that we, as a society, can do better.
Sometimes people set themselves up to be hurt by a situation, instead of hurting themselves directly. To absolve the blame.
My favourite sociopath from Black Iris makes an appearance in Cam Girl (Why yes, I have a favourite sociopath, why do you ask?) – and this line had me cackling like a banshee:
A girl I knew loved poetry. You might say she beat her love for it into me.
Ellis frowned. “Since when are you environmentally conscious?”
“I’ve always cared deeply about the Earth. I want it to be pretty for the day I assume control.”
(Please can we have more Brandt in future books?)
The timeline in this book is also chronological, so it’s a lot easier to follow than Black Iris. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Leah Raeder’s writing is just so refreshing for me. There’s some really crisp prose that just curls off the pages.
It was also quite interesting getting insight into the world of camming – in some ways, I feel like its the safer option of sex work, what with the physical distance between you and the clients.
Girls are taught that our bodies are currency, that we owe them to men for being nice to us, for giving unasked gifts to us, for not assaulting and raping us.
I did find some elements a bit repetitive – the descriptions of Elle, the sex, the constant push-pull of Ellis and Vada’s relationship. Eventually I wanted to shake Vada and tell her to make up her damn mind already – but I get that the constant questioning of her identity and sexuality was something the author was trying to emphasise.
When people die today they don’t disappear, leaving only their best legacies, their highlight reel. Now we leave behind an epic mess of the mundane. Drunk texts. Offensive Facebook comments. Dick pics. Hate memes. All the splintery, slimy flotsam of a life, the stuff that used to be swept out to sea when we died, forgotten. Now it remains. And you can collect it like driftwood and piece together a life.
Overall, another offering from Leah Raeder that you won’t want to put down. One that will challenge you, that will make you cringe – one that will make you rethink your opinions while you devour the brutally honest prose.
Sometimes I bought into the black-and-white mentality, too. It was easier, picking a side. Not fighting to be recognised as a fluid, nuanced individual, but simply accepting a premade label, a prefab identity.
ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.