Cover Image: Luster


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Member Reviews

I had a hard time getting through this one. I've seen it on many anticipated debut lists and knew I had the ARC waiting for months now, but it just couldn't captivate me. I finally settled down and was pleasantly surprised with the first 20% or so. It's full of dry humor and while it seemed like overkill at times, I also found it highly clever and was looking forward to finishing the book. Unfortunately, it kind of lost me beyond that. I'm unsure what this book is trying to be. There are promising sections; like Edie's relationship with Akila, but for the most part, it was unclear who the protagonist was, or really what the point even was. She's highly self-destructive and rather than feel authentic, it almost felt like it was performative in a way (let's see how many bad decisions one woman can make). The ending confused me, but then again, so did a good amount of the book.

I know I'm in the minority in my feelings, but I guess this just wasn't the book for me.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Luster by @ravenleilani is one of my most favorite discoveries and reads this year. This book was a self-care session I’ve been in desperate need of. I love when I find characters that parallel with my own personal struggles. The prose, beauty, and raw transparency showcased through Edie’s struggle while “stumbling through her 20’s” with finding herself as an artist, lover, and friend (to Akila) is a mix of dark humor, tumultuous decisions, and sexually charged dialogue.

L O V E D:
AKILA! She is a 13 year old black girl fostered by two white parents that can’t seem to get it right. Under odd circumstances, Edie becomes the anchor for the struggles Akila faces being a dark skinned girl among a neighborhood and school system that’s white washed. She guides Akila through her hair journey. Akila’s failed relaxer scenario brought back so many memories of a younger me sitting through 2+ hours of my scalp on fire to only end with 20% of my edges gone because my mom lost track of time.

Edie’s experience with men and dating is such an accurate depiction of how hard it is to be unhappy internally while also seeking an intimate connection.

Edie’s strength as a black woman with no family, friends, or much money is hard yet satisfying to read because you are rooting for her amongst all her internal suffering.

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Reading Luster made me want to see more novels by Black women and women of color from within the publishing industry. Leilani's characterization of publishing life was spot on. I was utterly captivated by the writing and the character development and read this book in two sittings. I did feel that the second half of the book wasn't as strong as the first, but I would still recommend it.

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Thanks Netgalley and the author for a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I will be honest with you, I had a hard time reading this and trying to understand main character's motives. While this debut novel is exceptionally written and has an engaging narration I found very difficult to relate to the characters. I would describe this book as coming of age story told from a perspective of twenty something black woman. Written in a way that feels like main character is telling us her life story mixed with all her present humiliations, bad choices and her shocking past. Eddie is trying to find herself as a woman and as an artist but all the choices she makes end in some sort of a disaster. She wants to love and to be loved so bad she ends up in relationship with an older white man who is in an open marriage. She is not overly happy with the arrangement but she can't stay away from him.

No matter my dislike to the story line I was mesmerised by an exceptional Raven Leilani's writing style and she definitely is an author to watch out for in the future.

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Absolutely LOVED this book. May be my favorite of the summer so far. Can’t believe its’s a first novel. Funny, sweet, sad. Fantastic!

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I love finding a new voice when I’m reading and Raven Leilani’s narrative in her new novel, Luster, is fresh and darkly funny.

Edie is a 23 year old black woman who is lost and lonely. She makes horrible life decisions and while she recognizes it, she can’t seem to stop. She’s sexually promiscuous, and when she meets middle aged Eric, a married white man, she is fine with being part of his open marriage. Eric’s wife, Rebecca, has given a lots of restrictions for the third party in the marriage, and as time moves forward, the list of restrictions grows, but so does the trio’s involvement with one another.
Y’all, this book is crazy! I laughed and I cringed. It’s weird, but the writing is so incredible. I loved how raw and forthright it is. I wouldn’t give this to my mom, but I can’t wait to see what else Raven Leilani writes. •


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This debut novel is a well-paced character study of a 20-something woman in a dead end publishing job who finds herself at the center of an open marriage. Edie makes questionable choices, her latest a connection with Eric, a married man she met online. With Eric, she tests the limits of her own dysfunctional relationships to violence and emotional abuse. After losing her job and apartment, Eric's wife, Rebecca, invites her to live in their New Jersey home, hoping to both anger her husband and also to bring Edie's influence as a black woman to the couple's adopted daughter, Akila.

Edie is an unforgettable character in a strange and damaging situation. The book follows her throughout this, the latest in a series of tragic, bizarre, and darkly funny situations Edie has experienced in her life. Leilani has written an engaging and unique story with pitch perfect prose.

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Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She's also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren't hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric's family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.

Razor sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make her sense of her life in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way- Goodreads

I didn't particularly like this book but there were things in this book that I liked, which caused me to finish it to the end.

Firstly, I loved the writing style. It was inviting, detailed and honest. The words seem to flow extremely well from Edie. They were not forced in the least. I loved the writing in this novel.

I also liked but also disliked Edie. I was able to relate to her wanting to be invisible but she quickly lost me when it was clear that she really didn't really care about herself and to be invisible. She wanted to be left alone for the most part but did things that made her extremely visible. This confused her . . a lot. My problem with Edie is because she really didn't take the time to get to know herself, she just does anything and allows anything. She doesn't defend herself and by the end of the book, I can't really say that she has done any growth. It was frustrating because I wanted her to grow.

Beyond Edie, there were a lot of topics touched upon in this book. Being Black in the publishing company, being a Black artist, living in NYC, white families adopting Black children, police brutality, family and love. This book is only eight chapters but it is heavy and some of those topics were relatable to me.

At the end of the day, what Edie needs is a therapist and some honest friends.


2.5 Pickles

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WOW! I absolutely loved this one and devoured it in two sittings. When Edie finds herself homeless and unemployed, she moves into her married lovers home who becomes a confidant for his young, adopted daughter. It was well written, fascinating and engrossing. So happy to have read this one - I think it is one of my favourite reads of 2020.

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thank you to netgalley for the arc!

i came in expecting to love this and ended up loving it even more. i have greatly enjoyed the trend of the unknowable millennial female protagonist who resists easy likeability, and i think this is my favourite version. i tried at times to reach for a comparison—‘my year of rest and relaxation’, ‘the new me’, the sort of wry, biting knowingness of ‘writers & lovers’—but in the end this was entirely & wonderfully itself.

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This book is being described as "cathartic, cerebral" - but it didn't resonate with me that way.
What I liked: How Edie was a young, self-destructive woman. In ways this reminded me a lot of Such a Fun Age. Her actions are misplaced, and she struggles to move forward after her life goes haywire. Can't we all relate?
What I didn't like: It was a really slow start for me. I almost gave up. I think because I was getting used to the writer's style, and it was very wordy and many times strayed to a back story that wasn't necessary.

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Thank you to NetGalley for the advance reader's copy of Luster by Raven Leilani.

Luster is the story of a young woman struggling to find her way forward in life after a job loss and during a complicated relationship. This was a very well-written meditation on what it's like to be young and directionless. This story captures the feeling of just trying to figure out how to get by perfectly, the feeling of striving for survival rather than success.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, athough as a forty-six year old woman I did not necessarily feel like the target audience. There were pop culture references that I did not get but that did not detract from the beauty of the writing and the ability to connect with the underlying story on a purely human level.

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Whoa. There was a lot to absorb. You are basically in the head of a 23 year old woman and it is sensory overload. Her thoughts are tumbling out so fast that I could barely keep up with her. The writing is really great and at times I would read a beautiful, almost lyrical sentence that I would stop and think how I loved what it conveyed. It also has moments of being quite insightful and witty. But for me, some of the situations were so beyond strange (her connection and interactions with the husband aka her kinda boyfriend, wife, and daughter seemed so bizarre) that it was hard to stay fully vested in the story. Edie was raw in her thoughts and emotions and had a lot of baggage with her parents/past that were also thrown in the mix of her now entry into adulthood. I felt rather uncool and old 🤷🏻‍♀️ reading some parts and really wondered if maybe this novel is geared towards a younger audience? Even though this novel did not work for me, I would be interested to see what the author writes next as I do feel like this is just the start of her writing career. I do believe that this book with the right reader could really work. Thank you to @fsgbooks via @netgalley for a copy of this book and it will be out August 4, 2020. Review posted on Instagram @carolinehoppereads and goodreads.

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4.5 stars

I loved so much about this book, but mostly that the voice is so original and fresh and unique.

The main character is 23 years old and drifting through a series of choices that are palpably cringey but riveting to watch. Her voice is incredible, and that is largely due to the at times borderline Faulknerian sentence structure, at other times terse phrases, and the at all times bomb dropping style of revealing...central details. In some ways, the character seems really vacant, but throughout the work, I found this really powerful. She's not empty or flat but lacking in self worth and in a confident expression of who she is and how much more she deserves. And getting to watch her come to some of those realizations at the end of the novel is another tremendous strength of the experience.

The whole time I was reading this, I was struck by how clear and new the combination of this character, the style, and the structure felt. I cannot wait to read more from this author and was so intrigued by this work that I not only went hunting for some of Leilani's online content but am also already working it into future syllabi.

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Edie is twenty-three, an artist living in squalor in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY), doing daily battle with her loneliness and occasionally having reckless hookups, just to be touched. She meets forty-six-year-old Eric online and they engage in internet banter for a month before finally deciding to meet. When they do, it's not exactly fireworks, but by then Edie has emotionally invested in the idea of Eric and they begin an affair. He tells her right away that his wife is aware, and has some "rules" for his playing away from home. It doesn't sit particularly well with Edie, but she has had a long history of settling for less than she deserves.

Through a variety of turns of (mis)fortune, Edie winds up much more embroiled in the life of Eric and his family than she or he ever intended, forging a painful and awkward intimacy with his wife, Rebecca, and his adopted daughter, Akila. Apart from the already interesting premise of 'Luster' -- the open marriage and all that--the entanglements are made even more complex because though Eric and his wife are white, Eric's adopted daughter, and Edie, are Black. This may explain, to some degree, just how much of Eric's family life Edie is permitted to encroach upon. Still, she remains throughout it all very much an outsider looking in, painfully, dreadfully lonely and starving for connections. She makes those connections, imperfectly. With Eric through rough and sometimes degrading sex; with his wife, through her art, and with his daughter, in part because of their shared racial heritage.

I liked this book a lot, but found some parts dense with language and imagery, often at the expense of story and character. I did, however, admire that the author did not glamorize or make a soap opera out of this unconventional situation. If anything, the open marriage with Edie as the third party only underscored the degree to which people are able to compromise themselves simply to avoid being alone.

I think Raven Leilani will be a highly-regarded new literary voice, not just because her writing is beautiful and complex, but because she has a delicate touch with difficult subjects. Though the book is not ostensibly about race, she addresses it with quiet observations like Akila's need for appropriate hair products and her inability to find them in her town. Unable to turn to her adopted mother, she makes mistakes and missteps which Edie must them rescue her from while her parents remain clueless. Or in a moment just before Akila has a negative interaction with the police and Edie senses that things may go badly. Edie thinks: I know that the moment between when a black boy is upright and capable of speech and when he is prostrate in his own blood is almost imperceptible, due in large and great part to the tacit conversation that is happening beyond him, that has happened before him, and then resists his effort to enter it before it concludes.

Later, when Akila is recovering from the encounter, feeling foolish and ashamed, Edie tells her: "No, there's nothing we could have done. It was always going to go that way." and then, "You're not going to feel better about this ... You're going to feel angry, for a long time, and that's your right. You've earned it, and it means you know you deserve more." An important moment not only because of what it says about race, but because of how Edie doesn't see how her words apply to her own circumstances, as the awkward third-party in a marriage that is hanging by a thread that is also unlikely to break.

This book is not easy and quick consumption. I recommend it for those who prefer introspective literary fiction.

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Raven Leilani’s new novel Luster includes a marriage that becomes entangled around a young woman, the economic near-impossibilities of being a millennial, and the way that race permeates every aspect of life in America. In other words, Luster includes many elements hovering in the zeitgeist of contemporary literary fiction and absolutely takes command of them--in other words, Luster is the book many authors have been trying to write, but nobody has done it better. An elevator pitch for this book might sound like one of many, but the voice shines so clearly, that any reader will recognize that this book is spectacularly singular almost immediately.

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I wanted to be able to appreciate this story, especially after reading the synopsis and reviews, but the beginning of the book was "sexually charged" and off-putting. I am a little uncomfortable with that, and so, unfortunately, I will not be finishing this book. Thank you, NetGalley, for letting me give it a try.

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*I was given a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

3.5/5 stars

I liked a lot of things about this book. I thought that the characters were all very interesting, and I appreciated the blatant acceptance of how they were all so miserable. I'm 22 and being that the main character is 23, I felt that I could connect with her on a lot of levels, especially not knowing where you belong or what you want to do in life. Nothing felt fulfilling enough for her, and I get that. I also really enjoyed the art that was woven into the story, because I don't often read about art or artists.

I LOVE that this book is by a black author and that the main character is black. I have recently been taking stock on my own reading, and I realized that I read a lot of white authors, but not a lot of authors of color. As someone that is white, it is SO IMPORTANT to read stories about the experience of being black. I will never understand the injustices that people of color face every single day, but I can read, and educate myself, and advocate for the communities. There is a part in this book that deals specifically with police brutality, and then gives a clear example of white privilege following it. I know this happens, and I acknowledge my privilege, but how eye-opening to see it laid out so clearly in the way that Leilani does it.

There were a few things that I did not enjoy about this book. At first, I really didn't like the writing style. It felt almost flowery because of the amount of detail and word flair that was used. I got used to it about halfway through, but towards the beginning, I felt myself struggling to not lose the story.

Another thing that I didn't care for was the character development. It may just be my reading preferences, but I felt that the only character that was fully fleshed out was the main character. The other three characters had detail and personality, but I felt that they could have been developed a little more (especially Eric because he felt so key to this plotline).

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I think that I’m obsessed with this book. I read this while away for a weekend with family, and I took every chance that I could to sneak away and keep reading. Every character in here is lonely and unsure of themself, yet desperate to connect and matter, and it feels so real and authentic. Raven Leilani’s voice is so strong and I can’t wait to read anything and everything that she writes in the future. Edie was such a complex character, and her point of view was amazing to read, both searingly funny and honest, and at times quite heartbreaking. I’m glad I read this on my kindle because I highlighted SO many lines that stood out, one of my favourite funnier ones being ‘“You’re kind of aloof,” he says, and all the kids stacked underneath my trench coat rejoice.’

Throughout reading this, I couldn’t help but feel as though it lives in the same realm as Fleabag and Insecure. An honest, funny, messy, heartbreaking story of someone trying her best. A book that is about to make a strong connection with many people who read it. I hope they all find it.

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This book was written in a slightly surreal, unusual way that really made me have to pay attention. It was a book about making choices (including some sketchy ones! It was so vivid and complex with its story of interracial relationships, politics and identity while still being very enjoyable to read.

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