*Won book in a Goodreads giveaway*
Luster by Raven Leilani is an amazing debut novel that uses masterful verbosity to illustrate the evolution of a millennial Black woman character as she navigates through many obstacles to figure out what she wants to do with her life.
Twenty-something Edie is trying to figure out her purpose. She works at a publishing house but hasn’t fulfilled her passion for art to the fullest extent out of fear of failure. Love is not the goal as she stumbles through sexual partners, including co-workers. She wants a real connection, but when she gets fired over inappropriate sexual relations in the office, she finds herself in the arms of the digital archivist Eric. Not only is he distant, but he’s also married. Edie goes to a party at his house where she meets his wife, Rebecca, a pathologist. Now that Edie doesn’t have a secure job and is on the verge of eviction, Rebecca invites her to stay in the home. Edie soon meets Akila, the Black adopted daughter that Rebecca and Eric neglected to mention. She’s drawn to being a mentor to the young girl because Akila is a reminder of her younger self as she deals with flashbacks centering on her toxic family upbringing. She’s also drawn to finding out more about Rebecca, who keeps scheduling activities for them to bond as she strives for normalcy in her open marriage. As Edie grows closer to Akila, an unarmed Black woman and police situation occurs at the suburban New Jersey home that makes Edie quickly realize how she will always be an outsider in the home of her flaky boyfriend and his wife.
The writing is so elaborate but likable. The way the main character describes situations with her suicidal Seventh Day Adventist mother and her veteran atheist father to past sexual relationships to adventures with Rebecca in the autopsy room at her hospital workplace sticks with the reader. The brilliant writing slows the story progression, but when the plot climbs to the climax, it’s a satisfying result. Many issues are brought up in the one character such as career doldrums versus true ambition; quick sexual hookups versus extending them into disengaged long-term relationships; parental loss after surviving parental trauma; and being Black in a White family that doesn’t comprehend the experience of being Black. There are similarities to Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age with the coming-of-age modern-day tale of a millennial Black girl failing to make the best decisions, but the execution of this story and its elements resonates stronger.
Overall, the novel is a standout from the writing to the story development to the complex characters, though it’s a book where some readers may not like the heavy situations or the heavy wordage.