(Conveniently, the lion in the above pic is actually named Little Lion! So he was a shoe-in to win Cover Model for this post!)
I swear I don’t read just queer, diverse contemporary YA – but happily, there’s so much of it this year! I’m so pleased that more diverse characters are becoming more front and center instead of being so hard to find, as they were even just 5 years ago. Anyway, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert is a fantastic title to add to your diverse reading list – and not just because the characters are so diverse, but because the story itself is riveting and perfectly written.
Have you read Colbert’s Pointe already? If so, you know she has a really amazing voice – her characters and descriptions are so well-thought-out and really leap off the page, but don’t feel overworked or fake. She has a great gift for realistic characters that you don’t want to punch! Suzette – Little – and Lion – Lionel – in this book are no different. Suzette is home in CA for the summer, after a year away at a Massachusetts boarding school. She was sent there after her sorta-step-brother Lionel was diagnosed with bipolar and her well-meaning mom and her sorta-stepdad (Lionel’s dad) thought it would be easier for her to cope away from it all. Which seems a little misguided, but when she gets home, Lionel seems more like himself and she’s hopeful that they can get back to once again being friends as well as sorta-siblings. But when Lionel starts slipping back into his bipolar ways, Suzette is forced to figure out what it means to be a friend and a family member, and to whom she has responsibility.
That alone seems like a lot to deal with, but she’s also struggling with how she left things with her first sorta-girlfriend at school, the boy here at home who likes her and who she maybe likes in return, and this new girl in the friend group she’s strongly attracted to. And oh, yeah, Lionel likes this girl too.
Suzette is a great character – she’s super confused and is struggling to learn how to be herself. She’s easy to like – she’s strong, but not brave, which is something I can really relate to! Her struggles to determine how much to reveal of herself to others mirror what most of us have gone through and continue to go through, though not quite as dramatically as we do as teens and young adults. Settling into who you are is quite a process, and we see Suzette trying to handle her race (she’s black, her sorta-stepdad and Lionel are white), her religion (she and her mom converted to Judaism a few years back, but no one at school knows she;s Jewish), and her sexuality (is she gay? Is she bi? Does she really need to know right now?) – and it’s not a very long book! But Colbert handles all of this with great sensitivity and love, but without easy, pat answers. See, realistic!
I think I liked this even more than I liked Pointe , which is saying a lot as I am a sucker for ballet-related novels! But Suzette’s voice is just SO compelling. I kinda hope Colbert writes a sequel so I know how things turn out for Suzette on various fronts!