Imagine you’re in high school.
Now imagine you’re in high school coming to terms with your sexual preference, your decisions for school, your religious identity.
Now imagine that you have a brother who is bipolar and you love him to death and you want to make sure he’s okay.
LITTLE AND LION by Brandy Colbert is a novel about mental health, understanding your sexual identity, being in love, feeling responsibilities of being an adult, being a teenager, and being yourself. It’s jam packed with excitement all within 250 pages.
Suzette (aka Little) is your narrator for the story and from her point of view alone you get a myriad of different questions and thoughts that I don’t even know I was thinking when I was sixteen.
The story begins with her returning from school in New England. She was sent there out of concern that her brother’s behavior will affect her. First, she’s struggling with her sexual identity. Is she gay? Is she straight? Is she bi-sexual? She can’t know for sure. Then, she’s struggling with her friendships with her friends prior to leaving for school. Finally, she’s struggling with protecting her brother who seems to have it together, but she believes she needs to be closer to him and help him out.
Lionel (aka Lion) seems like your average sort of guy, except last summer he was having a hyper manic moment leading to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and testing out different medications before deciding that he was going to quit them cold turkey.
This was at the same time Suzette came back from school to finally spend a summer with her brother. They were very close for step-siblings, but Suzette’s concerns for Lionel pulled them apart eventually changing their relationship forever.
I’ve known some very bi-polar people in my life including my cousin who went from partying all night long to waking up and asking Jesus for forgiveness for the sins she committed during the evening (she just danced. I was there, God). I’ve dated people struggling with their anti-depressant medication and how the medication made them feel listless. They didn’t have any more interest in what they were doing. They hated the person they were without them.
The world for people struggling with mental illness is tough. I should know; I struggle with it myself. But in order for us to feel normal, we need to be treated normally. We need to feel that our diagnosis isn’t us; that we aren’t the mental illness people tell us we have. We need to feel that our medications don’t define us either; that anti-depressants are there to help us normalize not make us feel like monsters.
However, these are two areas that a lot of people who don’t struggle with mental illness don’t understand. This is where Suzette’s perspective comes in. I believe this story is great for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important reason is that it gives light to the perspective of those who have loved ones with mental illness. Suzette’s reactions to Lionel’s behavior feels on par with someone who hasn’t adjusted yet to knowing or being around someone with mental illness.
I think something valuable that you get out of this story is that you learn that people with mental illness are trying their best to put on a smiling face everyday and feel like the person they were before they were diagnosed. Our jobs as loving friends and family members are to always make sure they feel included; don’t approach us with kid gloves. We may be struggling, but we’re not fragile porcelain dolls.
It’s just so funny how Brandy Colbert approaches the topic. While yes, a part of the story is about Lionel, but a lot of the story is also about Suzette. I think in her own way, Brandy Colbert is trying to tell us that you should continue to live your own lives. Don’t get caught up in making sure your loved ones feel comfortable, fall in love and go out and have a great life. We’re trying to do the same thing too.
So if you’re new to knowing someone with mental illness or if you want to better understand why some people act the way they do towards people with mental illness, then I would recommend reading this book. It’s good to show you how people approach different challenges in their life and the most important lesson you can take away is that mental illness is an extremely personal struggle.
Buy it on Amazon: Little & Lion