Am I my brother’s keeper? If so, how far am I willing to go to prove my love for him? In Brandy Colbert’s latest young adult novel, she asks her readers to consider how far a sibling goes to prove her love for her brother in the midst of securing a semblance of identity.
After leaving Los Angeles to attend boarding school in Massachusetts, Suzette (Little) returns home for the summer, unsure if she’ll attend in the fall. When she arrives, she finds herself in the beautiful gumbo that is her parents, friends, L.A.’s cityscape, and her stepbrother, Lionel (Lion), diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and in need of her emotional support.
As her summer settles, she finds herself wrestling with the idea of returning to her boarding school or staying in L.A., where her identity offers the occasional challenge, but not a constant entree for others to bit as in the former. However, she finds herself straggling the line of worrying for her brother who’s not standing by his health and building a crush on the same girl her brother also likes.
When Lionel starts spiraling out of control, Suzette finds herself in an awkward position. At what point does familial loyalty hurt or help?
Little & Lion mirrors L.A.’s diverse world with black, white, Latino and Asian characters, along with LGBT, including pan-sexuality. Suzette and her mother’s black. Lionel and his father’s white (Lionel’s redheaded!) and Jewish. Little and Lion’s parents, an interracial couple in a common-law marriage (an uncommon relationship written in books nowadays). Their family’s supportive and loving, and despite moments of reasonable contention, grant readers good familial representation.
More so, Lionel’s characterization as a boy living with bipolar disorder rings true. He’s not a caricature of what one thinks the disorder involves or looks like. Proper terminology’s described, painting a full picture of its struggles.
In addition, teens act like teens and not older folks in younger bodies. I did not feel as though I read a bad CW or Aaron Spelling teen book, and while the supporting characters feel real, I cannot help but think that Suzette deserved to be more than a two-dimensional character.
Unfortunately, her characterization revolves around being the sister of a troubled boy and the girl deciding how her bisexuality defines her. She read a bit bland, notwithstanding the glorious marks of what could have been a dynamic character inside a YA book – a demographic thirsting for them. She reacts to her surroundings instead of acting, give or take the ending. I guess that could be considered acting, but her decision’s rather obvious as it approaches. Suzette’s boring, sadly, and I fail to grasp how an author makes a black, Jewish, and bisexual girl in love with two people and lust with one boring.
Identity’s a major theme in this story. Suzette’s bisexual, but she struggles regarding what makes one an “acceptable bi.” She likes Emil, her childhood friend, who’s biracial (black and Korean), but she left her heart in New England with Iris, her roommate. Since Suzette’s also black and Jewish, identity issues continue to showcase avenues where she focuses on where she belongs.
Furthermore, another theme in this story refers to how far familial loyalty hurts those involved. Suzette and Lionel share a complex and multi-faceted sibling relationship where they share secrets, love each other, and offer support when necessary. However, the relationship challenges them when Lionel throws his health on the back burner, threatening their stance on each other and cloaking himself in danger. Should one hold secrets that hurt and accept the consequences of doing so. Those consequences impose laudable review.
Colbert knows her young adult audience. She writes a clear, quick, and engaging story, while using their language without resorting to abusive pop cultural references or youth generational condescension. Readers witness the teens walk through muddling situations without the mindset of twenty or thirty-somethings often seen in young adult novels where the author clearly expects higher emotional maturation beyond their years. Paraphrasing a quote from Emil, her childhood friend, he states how “they’re sixteen and they’re supposed to eff up.” If they had the answers, at their age, authors know not their readers.
Furthermore, Colbert writes with actual insight regarding diverse nuances. She includes the racial microagressions people of color (no matter the race) contend with daily. For example, there’s a pool scene where an associate feels comfortable expressing their thoughts about black people and swimming. The scene’s handled with knowledge, care, and expertise.
In addition, sexuality and mental illness, two topics where inexperienced writers dwell, receive gracious portrayals. No Hollywood bisexuality and Bipolar Disorder flutters the page. Nothing offensive.
However, I hold a point of contention. While she includes a love triangle – it’s in the blurb – I must ask a question.
Can bisexual characters not have a love triangle where the clear winner’s of the opposite sex? Can the same sex or gender win, if one must involve a triangle involving a bisexual characters? To say it’s cliche denotes the same surprise one would have when walking in McDonald’s’ and finding cheeseburgers. While I’m not sure if this story involves one such case, considering its ending, my “spidey senses” tingle for all the wrong reasons.
Regrettably, I found myself hankering for more time with the Iris subplot and wishing for a sequel, regarding Suzette’s relationship with her. Twitter time with Ms. Colbert!
While a good read with fair and noble representation, this story’s a pretty standard YA contemporary read. Girl meets girl meets boy. Troubled brother gets in the way. My wishes for a change in love triangles regard bisexual characters, a sequel about Suzette and Iris, and a more active protagonist dispense my only cons while reading. I recommend for a quick read that offers more of the same with slivers of hope in-between.
3/5 Shots of Vodka