book review: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

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Raw, gritty and endlessly compelling, Cam Girl by Leah Raeder is not a book I would read again – let’s just get that out of the way – but it was still unputdownable and undeniably ambitious. Cam Girl tackles everything from gender fluidity, to the sex trade, female agency, disability issues, drunk driving, depression, anxiety, and the ravage of expectations.

(I said it was ambitious!)

Raeder does an amazing job with all of the above, although I do wish the book had a clearer focus. Often I was confused with where it was going, or what it was going to explore next. I braced myself for a Gone Girl finale, which thankfully didn’t happen to quite that extent.

Cam Girl takes place in the aftermath of a brutal car accident. Best friends (and sometimes more) Vada Bergen and Ellis Carraway have survived a crash that kills a young baseball player and leaves Vada without the use of her right hand. As an artist, Vada needs her hand like she needs to breathe, and the disability sends her ricocheting into disaster – seeking anything to numb the pain and take away the debilitating memories of the night of the accident. She breaks things off with Elle and becomes a ‘cam girl’ – selling her sexual services over webcam to hungry men – and women – eager for their ‘kinks’ to be played out on screen.

Online, Vada meets ‘Blue’, a lonely young man who pays her for private chats. But unlike the others, Blue wants to talk to Vada. To get to know her. To hear her innermost thoughts and fears and desires. Intrigued and sexually stimulated by this stranger, Vada begins to wonder if maybe she can have that fairytale future she’d always envisaged. Because after all, Blue is a man – and Ellis is… well, not.

When Ellis returns into her life, working on the ‘camming’ website’s many issues, Vada becomes even more confused. What does she want? Who does she want? And will Max – the grieving, furious, heartbroken father of the young boy who died in the accident – will he ruin everything she’s sought so valiantly to build in the wake of the tragedy? Will he reveal Vada’s darkest secret?

So… the thing is, I guessed who ‘Blue’ was right away. Disappointing, to say the least. I kept hoping I was wrong, but nope. And I also think that often in books like this – who the author wants the main character to have the most sexual tension and pull with, they just… don’t. No spoilers, but I really didn’t believe the HEA here, or why the two characters really were so in love.

However – Raeder’s prose is absolutely stunning. Check it:

Midwinter in Maine is hell. Dante’s Hell, Ninth Circle style. Ocean infused the air, salt and grit studding the breeze with a million tiny barbs. Might as well have left the blanket indoors. I used to think of myself as tough, born in a blizzard and raised on the West Side of Chicago, but I wasn’t prepared for this sheer brutality, the way each day hit you like a kick in the teeth.

– and-

Onlookers see the finished result, polished and prettified, but all the artist remembers is the labor. The grueling, gloriously bloody becoming.

– and-

Do you know how much blood is soaked into every mile of asphalt, how many graves you drive over each morning on the way to work? This world is so thick with ghosts it’s a wonder anyone can breathe.

I mean, come on now.

So, while parts of Cam Girl disappointed me and parts destroyed me and parts titillated me, the book as a whole will make you think. And isn’t that the whole point, after all?

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