by Brandy Colbert
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Suzette, aka Little, has just arrived home in L.A. after spending her sophomore year of high school at a boarding school in Massachusetts. She was sent away by her mom and not-quite-stepdad, Saul, so they could focus on taking care of her not-quite-stepbrother, Lionel (Lion). Suzette and Lionel were as close as two siblings could be, but Lion’s bipolar diagnosis changed things between them. Though she’s a year younger, Suzette can’t help feeling responsible for and protective of him. Now that she’s home for the summer, they’ve fallen into their old patterns with a couple of new twists – besides Lion going off his meds, he’s also dating a girl Suzette is into, too, though she starts dating her close friend, Emil. Suzette also has a lot of thinking to do about how her secret relationship with her roommate, Iris, dissolved, and how to make things right. There is a fair amount of drinking, a little smoking pot, and some detailed sex scenes.
Suzette is the very definition of intersectionality. Saul and Lionel are Jewish (and Caucasian), and Suzette and her mother (who are black) converted years ago. Suzette also had a bat mitzvah, though she never wore her Star of David necklace at boarding school (keeping multiple identities under wraps). She speaks of feeling left out of Jewish spaces and friendships because she doesn’t fit into other people’s boxes. Though the author makes much of how connected Suzette feels to Judaism and her love of celebrating Shabbat (done quite artfully), Colbert seems to go out of her way to mention how Suzette and her family don’t keep kosher without addressing it at all. (They eat chorizo, prosciutto, and shrimp, off the top of my head.) Don’t get me wrong, there are many Jews who don’t keep kosher, or who pick and choose what feels meaningful to them in terms of dietary laws, but to not address it at all just seemed odd. The other odd thing was about the fictional Avalon, Massachusetts. I pictured it to be near the real town of Avon, MA, which is not far from Boston, but it is described as a place where drivers are chill and don’t honk or yell at each other, which definitely does not describe most of the towns near Boston. It’s possible Colbert pictured Avalon being in Western MA (like Northampton), where people are more chill, but that part made me wonder if Colbert had ever even been to Massachusetts!
But my nitpicking aside, this is a solid story with refreshingly complex characters, real dilemmas (especially how Lion blackmails Suzette to not tell their parents he’s off his meds), and a realistic and satisfying if not complete ending. It tackles both bipolar disorder and bisexuality and their many nuances with ease and grace and completely deserved to win the Stonewall Award this year. Now, if only I could figure out how to live in Suzette’s amazing house (and turret bedroom)…!