Book Review: Little & Lion

little and lion cover

Colbert, Brandy. Little & Lion. Little Brown, 2017.

As a high school teacher and avid reader, I’ve become familiar with the continuously growing roster of popular YA authors. It’s rare—and therefore extremely exciting—for me to come across an unfamiliar author. While reading the YA anthology Summer Days and Summer Nights, I saw many names and writing styles I knew—Veronica Roth, Cassandra Clare, Lev Grossman. But my favorite story came from an author I’d never read: Brandy Colbert. I went to Amazon and quickly purchased her latest novel, Little & Lion.

Suzette is a proud member of a diverse, blended family: she’s close to her stepfather, Saul, and stepbrother Lionel. She and her mother even convert to Judaism, though, as an African-American, Suzette must deal with her share of insensitive questions. She and Lionel (nicknamed “Little” and “Lion” respectively) share a unique bond, one that is tested when Lion has a strange, violent outburst. Lion is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and while he struggles and tries a myriad of medications, Suzette’s parents worry that she is too preoccupied with her brother’s health. They send her away to boarding school in Massachusetts.

When Suzette returns home for the summer, many things have changed—her brother appears to be in better health, while she is reeling following an abrupt, messy breakup with her roommate, Iris. Suzette lands a part-time job at a florist where she feels a pull toward her tattooed, spunky co-worker, Rafaela. But when Lion meets and expresses an interest in Rafaela, Suzette feels conflicted. This is further complicated by a secret Lion shares with Suzette alone: he is shirking his medication. Will Suzette find the courage to tell their parents? Will Lion function without the assistance of his medication? Will Suzette stay with her family in LA or return to the boarding school in the Fall?

Little & Lion inspires the reader to think about family—how they come in many shapes and sizes, and how the family we choose often means more to us than a biological connection. It also highlights the helplessness a family member feels when someone they love struggles with mental illness. Suzette, too, is a fantastic protagonist. Her feelings of devotion and concern are often at odds with her feelings of jealousy and resentment, which makes her relatable and human.

I struggled with the characterization of Rafaela—I couldn’t decide if she was bold and unpredictable or just a troublemaker. Some of her actions seemed rash and unkind and caused me to dislike her almost immediately.

I could certainly see using passages from Little & Lion to springboard conversations about mental illness or blended families. The book would likely be a popular and relevant choice in a classroom library. I can’t wait to read more of Colbert’s work—her clear, honest writing style will be attractive to both teenage and adult readers.

Book Review: Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories

summer days and summer nights cover

Perkins, Stephanie, editor. Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories. Griffin, 2016.

School is officially back in session. So far, I can’t complain—I have great students and am happy to be reunited with my coworkers. I feel satisfied and productive at day’s end.

But I miss summer already.

I miss sleeping late and planning vacations and excursions. I miss the fantastic weather and my uniform of t-shirts and flip flops. I miss the casual, breezy air of the people I encountered.

That’s why I was glad to begin reading Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories. A collection of short stories written by notable YA authors—Veronica Roth and Cassandra Clare among others—Summer Days and Summer Nights brings back the easy feelings of summertime. I’d also read and enjoyed My True Love Gave to Me, a Christmas-themed YA collection edited by Perkins.

Each story in the collection features a different facet of summer, from Dairy Queen ice cream cones and dips in the pool to days working at summer camps and resorts. Below is a short synopsis of each piece.

Head, Scales, Tongue, and Tail by Leah Bardugo: Gracie believes she’s seen a scaly creature in the lake of her small town. She consults a well-read tourist, Eli, and the two develop a strong friendship that resumes each summer. But will they get to the bottom of the supposed sea monster?

The End of Love by Nina Lacour: Fiona is desperate for distraction in the midst of her parents’ divorce. She signs up for a Geometry summer course despite already passing and excelling in Geometry. There, she reunites with three figures from her past, including one old flame.

Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray: Kevin works at the Cinegore, a movie theater that screens horror flicks and is owned by a mysterious movie director. He thinks this is perhaps his last chance to tell his coworker, Dani, how he feels about her. This plan is foiled when the patrons start acting a bit strange.

Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block: I frequents a teenage dance club with her friends M and L. There she meets the mysterious A, a boy who loves to dance and sports a mohawk. Will their relationship last the entirety of summer?

In Twenty Minutes, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins: Marigold is reeling following her breakup with her boyfriend, North. After hearing that he has quit his job at his parents’ Christmas tree farm, Marigold decides to confront him and ask him to attend college. She finds him employed as a tram operator. Will North leave with her?

Souvenirs by Tim Federele: Matt peddles t-shirts at a local amusement park and is nearing the pre-determined “breakup date” he set with his boyfriend, Kieth (misspelling intentional). Kieth also works at the park as a performer, and he asks Matt to attend an end-of-the-year awards ceremony. How will this affect their relationship?

Inertia by Veronica Roth: After her friend Matt is in a devastating accident, Claire is summoned to the hospital to be part of his “Last Visitation”—a procedure that allows friends and family members to explore happy memories with someone who is near death. As Matt and Claire reminisce on their time together, Claire begins to wish she had handled some aspects of their friendship differently. Will she get a second chance?

Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron: Lena is employed at a resort, and she knows that summer is by far the busiest time. As she juggles the wants and needs of the various guests, she is intrigued by a new hire, Arlo. Will a plan involving the resort guests bring Lena and Arlo closer together?

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert: Rashida is devastated when her cousin Audrey announces plans to move to San Francisco with her girlfriend, Gillian. After the death of Rashida’s mother, Audrey served as a mother figure. At the couple’s going away party, Rashida wrestles with her feelings while encountering similar ire from Gillian’s brother, Pierre.

Brand New Attractions by Cassandra Clare: Lulu is content with her life working at a “dark carnival”. When her father mysteriously runs off, Lulu’s uncle Walter and his stepson, Lucas, step in to take ownership of the carnival. Lulu is not pleased with some of her uncle’s changes.  Are his motives as pure as they appear?

A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith: Annie has spent most of her summer employed at a day camp where she is in charge of an active group of six-year-olds. When she runs into her crush, Griffin, at the grocery store, she decides to make a bold move and ask him on a date to the arcade. But does Griffin feel the same?

A Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman: Mark is living the same day—August 4th—over and over again. He isn’t sure to what to do about his predicament, but his interest is piqued by the appearance of a new face, Margaret, at the local pool. Margaret, too, is trapped in August 4th. Will the two find a way to break the cycle?

Each story has a unique narrative voice and the collection presents a myriad of romantic relationships. I like that fantasy pieces are placed alongside contemporary work and points-of-view and writing styles are varied. Some of the stories were so fantastic that I wished they could be elongated into a novel: Colbert’s Good Luck and Farewell and Roth’s Inertia were outstanding.

I felt some of the stories were too fast-paced and scattered, particularly Skovron’s Love is the Last Resort. With a wide cast of characters and an abundance of motivations, it was almost impossible to keep up with who was who or to care deeply about the plot.

I would certainly recommend Summer Days and Summer Nights to teachers as these are all school appropriate, high-interest texts. Summer might be over, but these stories provide a fun way to revisit the (in my opinion) best time of the year.