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.
TW: Biphobia, bi erasure, racism, talks of abortions, talk of suicide, bipolar disorder, bipolar II
I loved this book so much. I didn't know much about the plot before getting into the book. From the raving reviews and just general recommendations I knew it had a bisexual black Jewish main character, a character struggling with bipolar disorder (more specifically Bipolar Two), and their family. That was enough for me to read it and I am so happy I did because it is such a heartwarming story.
I loved the characters. I think Suzette is such an easy character to relate to because the way she is figuring out where she belongs on the LGBTQ spectrum is something that I definitely went through and I have no doubts hundreds of thousands of others have also. She is unsure about what to call herself but she knows what she feels and she's just taking it one step at a time. I felt for Lionel. I have never been in a situation where someone who is biploar is going through a manic episode, but from what I've read and heard from other reviewers, it's done exceptionally well. I definitely felt my heart drop when I realized what was happening, I just wanted Lionel to be okay because I felt just as protective about him as Suzette did. However, I think it would have benefited Lionel's character if we got to know him more outside of his mental illness. I felt like a lot of the time his whole personality was Bipolar II. We are shown he loves to read and loves nature & being outside but most of the time if the story has switched to focusing on Lionel it was just about his mental illness. I never really felt like I knew him. But because we are in Suzette's POV the entire time I still felt protective over him throughout the story. I also really loved Emil as a character. He was kind and patient with Suzette. He seemed to understand that Suzette was going through something heavy and he never pressured Suzette to hurry up and figure out her sexuality. I enjoyed Rafela, who is pansexual, as a character but I also felt like I would have enjoyed getting to know her a little more. I would have also liked to get to know DeeDee, who is a lesbian, a little more also. I liked that even after Suzette starts acting on her attraction to girls, her and DeeDee never have a moment between them where they consider it. They stay friends and I really enjoyed that. I would have liked more moments with Suzette and DeeDee.
Little & Lion discusses really important topics and I think they're handled really well. One thing being bi erasure and bisexual stereotypes. One of the characters, who identifies as a lesbian, vocalizes pretty negative stereotypes about bisexuals being a bit flip floppy about what they want. And the way it's explained and handled made me really happy. Also there is some talk about poly relationships, there's a character who is in a committed relationship but wants to be in an open relationship and I thought that was cool to see because I don't think I've seen that before. We also have a call out when a character says something racist, and there's a discussion around that. On race, there's also mentions of Suzette's mom Nadine and her partner (Saul, who is white and Lionel's dad) and how that sometimes is given shady looks. Also, religion is mentioned a few times because Suzette and her mom converted to Judaism when Nadine and Saul became more serious, but Lionel isn't sure what he believes. With Lionel and his mental illness, one thing that is brought up is that when someone has a physical medical problem, socially it's seen as acceptable for it to hinder what you can do or give you limitations. But with mental illness, because it's not something you can see when you look at someone it's seen as not as important or serious. I thought that was really important and realistic to how people who suffer from any sort of mental illness or even chronic pain can be treated. So this is a very diverse story and it never feels like it's checking off any sort of diversity criteria. It just feels like a story with real people who are all going through their own thing.
There was two things that bothered me throughout the book, especially since it brings up bisexual erasure and stereotypes, which is that sometimes I felt uncomfortable with the way Suzette handled her feelings for both Emil and Rafela. At times it felt almost like emotional cheating, especially when it came to Emil's feelings and the fact that he's liked her for a while and she knew it. I get that she was figuring her sexuality out, and like I said above about Emil he seemed like a really chill guy who wasn't going to pressure Suzette into rushing into anything. But there are two scenes in particular where I got real uncomfortable and felt bad for Emil. There's no cheating in this book but it just made me feel a bit uncomfortable. She isn't really called out on it and if she was I think I may have less of a problem with it. The other thing was that I felt like this book was marketed as a book about girls falling in love (the blurb above says "Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with.") and honestly it really isn't. I think saying Suzette is in love with Rafela is stretching it because sure, she is attracted to Rafela but their friendship is barely developed. The reason I enjoyed Emil so much is because he and Suzette have more chemistry and we get to know him more. It felt odd to be to market this book as a girls kissing girls kind of story when it isn't really. I picked this up thinking it would be a cute romance with two women and instead I got a story about our main character getting together with her cute neighbor who she has known all her life while also dealing with her sexuality and her mistakes/guilt with events that happened in boarding school. That story is totally fine and I think it's done really well (which is why I am giving it 4 stars!) but I feel almost tricked with the marketing.
The writing is gorgeous and I found myself taking so many notes and writing quotes about the writing. It's super easy to read and at times you're hit with a beautiful passage or thought that has you thinking. It's not only a heavy story but the romances are really cute and at times the dialogue is very funny. I like Lionel and Suzette's sibling relationship and their banter. I found them sweet. Even their nicknames for each other is just too much. I definitely want to pick up Brandy Colbert's other book and I cannot wait for her to write more. I wish we get to know more about Suzette and Iris after the story ends because I am so in love with these characters that I don't want my time with them to be over.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a really important and sweet coming of age story about family, sexuality, mental illness, love, etc. I think this is a book everyone should read because it's not only a good story but it's educational. I learned a lot about Bipolar II, something I didn't know anything about before picking up this book. The characters, writing, story, and topics were all done so respectfully. I want more and I'm sad it's over.