book review: little and lion (no spoilers)

A review by Tea Jay

I should preface this review; it took me longer to read this book than it did to read Tolstoy.

Let me explain; Little and Lion details a summer between two siblings; one sibling, a black Jewish girl, Little, struggling with her sexuality and accepting herself, the other a redhead boy, Lion, ruled by mania after going off his medications. This general knowledge of the book is what convinced me at checkout to buy. I was interested in Brandy Colbert’s take on bisexuality and bipolar.

Colbert is a great writer when it comes to dialogue and detail, and even more proficient in exemplifying reactions to injustice. This book made me a little more aware of different communities that I do and don’t belong to. I think that’s my biggest takeaway from this book; I recognized another woman’s struggles.

However, the main component of this novel is Lion and his mental illness. I can’t help but feel it missed the mark; not by much, but enough to leave me wanting just a little more from this book. There was a steady build-up, however I feel like just as healing isn’t linear, outbursts aren’t either. This book captured a steady decline into mania, but I just felt like there could have been…more? It is difficult to juggle multiple themes throughout the book, and I simply wish a little more effort was put into Lion’s actual symptoms rather than dialogues and thoughts through Little’s mind. I wanted to see more.

Or maybe I’m just uncomfortable with the fact that slight symptoms can result in big things and this book reflecting a reality of my own? Even more, I think it was uncomfortable reading how concerned Little was with Lion’s mania when I have experienced much worse. I felt like if Little knew me, she couldn’t handle me; my crazy would overwhelm her.

Despite being a little slow-coming at times, this book offered a realistic and non-stigmatized view into the world of Bipolar. I am impressed with how true to nature Colbert kept her story. It is not often you don’t see dramatized mental illness in YA books, and it’s very satisfying when an author knows what they are talking about.

All in all, I did like the book. Although it won’t go up there with my all-time favorites, it was one of the first books that I read that I wasn’t angry at how the author detailed mental illness. Also, it really helped me meditate on my own sexuality and gave me a little more love for myself for coming out when I did.

About the author: Tea Jay is a millennial, mother, and advocate. She has published two books about mental health. The first,In The Gray Area Of Being Suicidal, an essay collection chronicling life with BPD and being a suicide attempt survivor. The second, a children’s book explaining a caregiver’s mental illness to young children.

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