Review: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Title: Cam Girl
Author:Leah Raeder
Genre: contemporary
Series: n/a
Pages: 320
Published: Expected November 3, 2015
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5

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...

Cam Girl is a hard book. Like a car crash, it's painful and impossible to look away from. And like Vada walking away from the crash, it changes you.

Vada is a hard character to read. She's a hard person to love. Even before the accident, her relationship with Ellis is deeply troubled, but depression, disability, and alcohol push it to unbelievable heights. Their end is manipulative and abusive, no question, but the way you get into the character's head and experience the racism, classism, and homophobia that lead to her decisions is masterful.

Broke, evicted, and without the most important person in her life, Vada becomes a cam girl at a new start up catering to fetishists. She becomes Morgan, their highest earner, who closes out her shows with a silk tie and autoerotic asphyxiation. Her pain and desire to self-flagellate is palpable. Like prodding a rotten tooth, Vada's only confidant becomes the father of the boy killed in the same accident.

Until Blue, a mysterious client who seems to see Vada for who she is.

As she's falling for a guy who seems perfect, Ellis comes back to Vada's life. There's anger there, and so much pain, but also love. In one of the best love triangles I've read, should Vada choose the man she's never met or the woman she may have too much baggage with?

You see my blingee up there? This book is hella gay. Vada and Elllis' relationship stops being ambiguous about one chapter in, but Vada continues to fight it because she's afraid of being labeled gay. So how much of her love for Blue is due to internalized homophobia? The "easy" choice. It's a question both she and the reader ask and not an easy one to answer, but it's an acknowledged factor. (If I can make this review about myself for a moment, I'll say this question rings true more than any bisexual romance I've read. As a woman in a relationship with both a man and a woman, I do often worry that my relationship with my husband might be tainted somehow by the fact that the world perceives us a hetero. It is easier than going out with my girlfriend. "Passing privilege", to me, feels like cheating in a big worldwide game of homophobia.)

Plus, the sex scenes are mind-numbingly hot. Girl on girl sex that's not all languorous kissing on a bed of roses, but actually acknowledges kink and frottage and fingers. I am dead.

In addition to bisexual and gay issues, there's also a great focus on trans and non-binary characters, which we don't get to see as much in fiction. And characters, even though they're in grad school and technically adults,  struggle with their fluid sexualities and genders. It's not something that everyone knows at 16, and seeing that portrayed is really amazing.

The story has two mysteries, which come to a thrilling and almost gothic place, but this is where the book lost a star for me. There's a ton of plot and I felt the addition of missing documents and threatening knives was overboard. The mysteries pulled focus and caused me to wonder why Vada would ultimately choose someone she didn't trust.

In the end, the final chapter did wrap back around, and I was very happy with the conclusion. (Though I think counseling should be a requisite for everyone involved.) It's not a comfortable, happy book, but one that makes me want to run out and buy everything Raeder publishes.

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