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Luster by Raven Leilani
Literary fiction



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by Raven Leilani
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Quick take

Life as a 20-something New Yorker is far from glamorous in this biting account of sex, racism, art, and power.

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  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LoveTriangle

    Love triangle

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  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Buzzy


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SalaciousPeach



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.

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Why I love it

Reading Luster is like watching an acrobat perform a high wire routine: I experienced awe, exhilaration, the knife-edge of anxiety. This is an unforgettable book, and Leilani is a fearless and daring writer. She goes where others fear to tread, writing with deadly precision and scorching honesty.

Edie is a 20-something Black woman navigating a world of casual racism and complex sexual politics. She’s working out how to pay rent, keep her job, grow as an artist. She’s also figuring out how to find and take her pleasure. Edie is soon in an entanglement—the third party in an open marriage, living in the suburbs, serving as a racial role model for the couple’s adopted daughter.

Luster contains some of the sharpest writing you’ll find on race, sex, and class. It’s also a nerd-centered, disco-filled, adrenaline shot of exuberance and dark humor. It’s Parasite meets I May Destroy You by way of Ottessa Moshfegh. It knocked me sideways, and I hope it does the same to you.

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