Published by Hachette UK on August 8th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.
I know how easy it is to believe you’re doing the right thing if you say it to yourself often enough.
Little & Lion is the kind of book that sneaks up on you. You start reading and it all seems like a fairly quiet story about a sixteen year-old girl coming home from boarding school to see her loving family and supportive friends.
However, it soon becomes apparent that the book is so much more than it first seems. The author uses this warm, seemingly-average Californian family to explore sexuality, identity, mental illness, racism and particularly everyday microaggressions. It is subtle in its seriousness, hitting issues where it hurts but never making this an “issue book”, and somehow that makes it all the more powerful.
Suzette has a very strong voice as we explore her experiences as a black girl, as a Jewish black girl, and as someone just discovering her bisexuality. The book examines all the questions normally thrown at bisexual people – but do you like guys or girls more? so you’re dating a guy, does this mean you’re straight now? – and kicks them in the teeth.
This is also diversity done right. In recent years, there has been high demand for diverse YA books and authors have responded to that, which is great in theory, and yet I see again and again a straight white character with a group of friends serving as checklist marginalizations, never developed to feel like real human beings. Here, there are characters of all skin colours and sexualities and they all feel so vivid and real.
I think the key to this is intersectionality. Colbert doesn’t provide us with a stock gay character, followed by a stock non-white character, followed by a stock trans character. It feels so much more natural to show all the ways that marginalizations overlap – Suzette is black, Jewish and bisexual, Emil is biracial (Korean/African-American) and hard of hearing due to Ménière’s disease, Lionel is Jewish and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Rafaela is Latina and pansexual.
In can also say that I really related to some of the feelings Lionel shares about his illness and the way his meds make him feel.
“I hate that I feel like nothing good is ever going to happen to me again. And that sometimes I don’t really feel like anything at all.”
This is so true. I do not have bipolar disorder, but I have struggled with depression during my life and experienced the foggy feeling of nothingness that can accompany certain drugs. I always appreciate it when characters put into words a feeling I have personally experienced but is hard to explain.
Honestly, though, if you like YA contemporary that is subtle and clever, never manipulative, and builds relationship dynamics gradually over the course of the novel, it’s hard to go wrong with this. Suzette is a strong and much-needed voice.