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Raven Leilani

Winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize 2021 

Meet Edie. Edie is not okay. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting.

No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young, black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling headfirst into Eric’s home and family.

Razor sharp. provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster is a painfully funny coming-of-age story told by a fresh new voice.


There’s been some hype for this book and rightly so. It’s great to enjoy a debut novel as much as I enjoyed Luster. It follows Edie, a Black woman in her early 20s, as she becomes involved with Eric, a married White man in his mid-40s who is exploring an open relationship.

Edie wants to be an artist but is working a low-paid job in publishing. Edie loses the job, but not before Raven Leilani offers a few scorching truths about the industry. Everyone is lonely in this book, and Edie’s name is uttered so infrequently it becomes a challenge to remember. She is untethered; both her parents have died, and we catch glimpses of her past as her present situation veers from precarious to desperate. She is thrown into the gig economy, loses the room she rents in Bushwick, and winds up moving into Eric’s New Jersey home after a chance encounter with his wife. Rebecca becomes a sort of frenemy to Edie: a frosty host who accepts that Edie’s presence may benefit Rebecca and Eric’s adopted Black daughter Akila, a smart and geeky tween who is isolated in the ’burbs.

There’s something really exciting about the way Leilani writes. The book is brimming with sharp points and wit. Clever, choppy sentences throw us around. It’s like being pushed in a supermarket trolley by a drunk friend: a little risky, a lot of fun. Eric is a library archivist who owns a Bumblebee Unlimited record and wears an ironic ‘disco sucks’ t-shirt. Edie and Eric’s first date is at a theme park, and another memorable segment is at Comic-Con. Pop culture provides vivid scenery, and the differences in age and race are visible at all times in this book, regardless of what is being said, or not said aloud. This is a funny, juicy and bleak novel about work, sex, survival and being young.

Kim Gruschow is the children’s book buyer at Readings St Kilda.

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