Author: Brandy Colbert
Publisher: Little Brown and Company (2017)
Genre: Contemporary fiction (for a YA readership)
“When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she doesn’t want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her step-brother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her around for 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 find a way to save her brother from himself. But will he ever trust Suzette enough to let her help him?”
This book has been on my to read/review list for a while but I pushed it to the bottom because it features a sibling with a mental illness, rather than a parent. I didn’t know what I was missing.
As an Australian reader, I was conscious the whole time of how American this book was, which isn’t a bad thing, just an observation that there were certain terms and concepts (such as the school system) with which I wasn’t overly familiar and that I didn’t immediately understand.
That aside, this was an excellent book. The non-linear structure was great and allowed readers to form a more complete picture of Lionel (and his relationship with Suzette) before his diagnosis.
I wanted to cheer for the way this book explored diversity, both in terms of sexuality and religion. I don’t know much about Judaism but it was portrayed beautifully here from what I could tell, and it was a testament to the bonds between Saul, Lionel, Suzette and her mum that they converted.
The racism directed at Suzette and Emil shocked me. I’m extremely fortunate to have never been on the receiving end of such treatment, and I can’t fathom how it still exists. However, I need to recognise that it does exist – everyone needs to recognise it so that we can do something about it. This book – and fiction in general – has the power to make people aware of casual cruelty and racist behaviour and, I hope, to put a stop to it.
The way Colbert validated and emphasised the emotional support provided by a sibling or child of someone who has mental health issues was absolutely brilliant. In particular I appreciated that it was Suzette’s parents who identified she “was taking on too much emotionally for someone [her] age…How [she] couldn’t worry so much about him that [she] missed out on [her] own life.”
The bond between Suzette and Lionel was highlighted when Lionel stopped taking his medication and asked Suzette to keep the secret for him. It was a heavy burden to bear and a tough predicament, one that I imagine many young people in a similar situation would recognise.
I felt uncomfortable with the idea that Lionel and Suzette might have feelings for and possibly vie for the affection of the same girl, because I loved their sibling dynamic so much. There was no way a romantic relationship could come between them, surely? So, without saying too much, I was very happy with the ending.
Here are a few of my favourite lines:
“I smile and pretend I’m not examining every single inch of him for changes.”
Also, the description of Lionel’s thumbs immediately after this as “shredded, the sides of them forever bitten and spotted with red,” could be a description of my thumbs every day, so I have to mention that as well!
“It feels claustrophobic in my room, like I’m being pushed out by Lion and his increasingly intense thoughts.”
This was such an evocative description!
I’ve already started recommending ‘Little and Lion’ to my friends and colleagues in the mental health field. It’s a must-read.