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Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Young adult

Little & Lion

by Brandy Colbert

Excellent choice

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Quick take

A must-read for anyone who’s ever felt caught in between—places, people, identities, or two entirely different worlds.

Synopsis

A stunning novel on love, loss, identity, and redemption, from Publishers Weekly Flying Start author Brandy Colbert.

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.

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Little & Lion
It's bizarre to be so nervous about seeing the person who knows me best, but the past year hasn't been so kind to Lionel and me. I'm standing outside LAX on a sun-soaked afternoon in early June when my brother's navy-blue sedan screeches to a halt a few feet away. Part of me doesn't mind that he's thirty minutes late, because I needed time to get used to the idea of being back home. But now he's here and my heart is thumping like it's going to jump out of my mouth and there's nowhere to go. Lionel bolts from the car and barely looks at me before he starts rummaging in the trunk, shoving aside a plastic crate filled with used books to make room for my luggage. 'œI am so sorry,' he mutters. 'œThe freeway was a nightmare.' There really is no such thing as traffic back in Avalon, Massachusetts. People don't honk their horns. The put up with totally inconsiderate shit, like neighbors stopping their Volvos and Saabs in the middle of tree-lined streets to chat with friends, clogging up the road so no one else can pass. L.A. drivers would honk until their horns went dead while flipping them off and threatening murder—and I have missed that.

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Why I love it

Little & Lion is a California dream of a book, a must-read for anyone who’s ever felt caught in between—places, people, identities, or two entirely different worlds.

Sixteen-year-old Suzette is home in Los Angeles for the summer after a year at boarding school in New England. Suz and her stepbrother Lionel have always been close, but their relationship isn’t as easy and effortless as it once was: Lion seems distant and unreadable, worried and frustrated that their old friends can’t see past the bipolar disorder he wrestles with daily. Suz desperately wants to repair things between them, but her feelings for Lion’s beautiful new girlfriend throw a wrench into the works. To make matters worse, Suz is the only one who knows Lion’s secret: he’s off his meds.

There’s so much to love about Little & Lion, but what really set it apart for me was its rich and fully-drawn cast of characters. Colbert writes teenagers—especially ones who actually act like teenagers—with such empathy and generosity, and everyone, from Suz’s best friend DeeDee to her kind, quiet almost-boyfriend Emil, sings more than one note. Race, religion, sexuality, and illness all are explored with subtle deftness; the result is characters who feel realistically complicated and ferociously alive.

I kept coming back to words like that—deftness, nuance, specificity—when I was thinking about how to describe Little & Lion. In many ways this is a novel of quiet pleasures: lush, vivid language, sharp-eyed emotional honesty, and a deeply delicious treehouse makeout that had me holding my breath as I read.

Colbert’s use of setting is masterful—I found myself yearning for the creaky Victorians and taco trucks of her quirky, artsy Los Angeles—and her eye for detail is one of the best in YA. Her vivid renderings of deceptively simple images—a bottle of raspberry vodka, the careful preparation of a bowl of pasta, a book about the secret language of flowers—stayed with me long after I was finished. Little & Lion is smart, literary YA at its finest, and I am so, so excited to share.

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Member ratings (1,820)

  • TARA C.

    E Waterboro, ME

    Amazingly two brave YA characters: one LBGT+ and the other living with a mental illness. I couldn’t believe how much I loved Little & Lion. Their struggles were captured so authentically. Wonderful!

  • Karin L.

    Seattle, WA

    One of the best books (YA or otherwise) I've read in a while! The characters feel so real and heartfelt and every relationship and struggle was so real, sensitive, and earnest. Can't recommend enough!

  • Tyler D.

    Columbus, OH

    Like a John Green book, if John Green books weren't written by a straight white man. Vivid characters who are diverse without feeling forcedly so. Compassionately told, there's something for everyone.

  • Danielle T.

    Des Moines, IA

    Brandy's style of writing is unique, full of depth & diversity, she causes you to fall in love with not only her but the characters as well. Little & Lion is heartfelt & thought provoking. A must read

  • Xana L.

    West Chester, PA

    I truly loved relationship between Little & Lion. Both were dealing with their own coming of age stuggles and emotions.Colbert honestly portrayed the ups &downs that come w mental illness in families.

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