Cream, a self-published novel by Christiana Harrell, is the story of a young Kansas orphan who ends up in the foster home, with seven other girls, of a certain shady Mrs. Weston. The day she turns eighteen, the heroine is brought to Mrs. Weston’s son’s strip club and told to work if she wants a roof over her head. This sets the heroine, who calls herself Siren for the first half of the book, on a journey of self-discovery from Dallas to New Orleans, to Atlanta, to Baltimore, and Miami. She’s very tough, resilient, and hyper-vigilant about her vulnerable heart. A brief tragic love affair with a fellow stripper leaves Siren even more protected, until she eventually –after many sexual encounters — finds her soul mate.
Her journey is not just one of discovering her sexuality, but also her gender expression. Siren strips for heterosexual men for much of the book, adopting a traditionally feminine persona, with clear stiletto heels, lots of makeup and sexy costumes. But a friend tells her she’d make a great stud:
“Girl, you have stud written all over you. I don’t care how tight your jeans are or what poles you’ve slid down, you have a boyish swag.”
“You are not allowed to say swag.”
“Leave me alone, but seriously, you do. You would be a sexy ass stud. Don’t get me wrong, you rock the hell out of the femme look, but I can just see you in some boxers and a sports bra, sagging jeans, a cute haircut. You’d soak some panties.”
Being unversed in the ways of lesbian strip clubs, I Googled “stud stripper” and found a YouTube video that enlightened me (Siren becomes a YouTube sensation in the book). I’m sure stud strippers have launched a thousand queer theory dissertations, but I was mainly interested in what it meant to the character:
I had to admit that I did feel good in the boy clothes. As soon as I put on the baggy attire, my stance shifted; I felt relaxed and swag was added to my walk. Payton licked and bit her lips at me. I looked good. I was a stud, almost.
Siren became Cream, for obvious reasons, and got versed by her friend in the ways of stud life:
Payton and I spent the rest of the day talking about the gay community. She told me the good, the bad, and the ugly. We discussed labels and how gender roles were becoming a big thing in the lesbian community, because studs were beginning to be treated like men. She told me I’d get criticized because I didn’t mind girl clothes and makeup; some people wouldn’t view me as a “real stud”. Payton had it down to a science.
Interestingly, there’s not much about race, even though, based on the totally ethnographically legit method of perusing You Tube videos, and based on the race of the main characters in Cream, stud stripping seems to be a black community thing (please let me know if that’s wrong, and how wrong).
I usually read het romance, so Cream was pretty neat in terms of playing havoc with my expectations. For example, at one point Siren gets saved and wooed by a rich guy, and shacks up in his apartment. She’s not physically interested in him, but when he goes on a business trip, she and his daughter get it on. Instead of asking Rich Guy for help with the rival stripper who attacked her, Siren gets her own violent revenge.
I was pretty intrigued by this book. It was just so different from anything I’ve ever read. That said, there were a lot of editing problems that keep me from being able to recommend it. Things like this:
She wasn’t out of site for two seconds
“You’re lying. I thought Kitty was a dike.”
Thanks to Kitty, who was a pole dancing extraordinaire,
I usually would wear wigs when I preformed,
I didn’t mind her talking my ear of.
until the music stooped.
Nobody was wathcing you.
I didn’t get a second to breath.
“No, my girl…” I hesiated, “… friend is outside in the car.”
You get the idea. The Amazon buy page has editors named in addition to the author. I sincerely hope they worked for free:
“My daughter is the same age as you and she’s has more male friends than I care to mention.”
“Oh, you have a daughter?”
“Yes. She’s the same age as you.”
And some abrupt transitions, like this:
Ms. Weston played me. I stood there in silence, uncomfortable, and with my back against a wall. I didn’t have a penny to my name and no place to sleep. All the love I thought I was receiving from Ms. Weston was just preparation for me to be pimped out at her benefit. It made me happy that she thought she was dealing with a young dummy.
Also some “That word. I do not think it means what you think it means” moments, like these:
“I’ve read some. I’m an avid reader.”
I bucked my eyes when I looked in the mirror.
I pondered this one for a really long time:
The only man that ever touched her was her daddy— her real one— but he paid for that with a knife in his back when her older brother, Corey, caught him trying to stick his bird in a nest it didn’t build.
But this line was my favorite:
There was literally an explosion between my legs
As dire as that sounds, our heroine does get her HEA. My favorite thing about this book was probably the cover. Despite a unique and interesting plot, it mostly went downhill for me after that.