Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert is the third novel in our YA Book Club Winter Games Series. We previously reviewed The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue and There's Someone Inside Your House. For our final installment, we'll be discussing They Both Die at the End at the end of March. But for now, let's get into Little & Lion!
Emily: Little and Lion was, surprise surprise, a Book of the Month pick. As we have mentioned in past blog posts and podcast episodes, a lot of contemporary lit (especially thrillers) seems to get mental health issues completely wrong. When I saw that this was a novel that had a main character with bipolar disorder, I was really intrigued to read it because my experience with YA novels is that, generally speaking, they are a lot better at handling the topic of mental health than, say, The Couple Next Door. Just as a for instance.
So for a quick summary, Little & Lion is the story of Suzette (Little) who is sent away to boarding school after her brother Lionel (Lion) is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While Little is away at school, she has her first relationship with a girl, causing her to question her sexual identity. Little comes home for the summer, and those issues of identity are exacerbated when she gets a crush on two different people, her childhood friend Emil and a girl named Rafaela, who her brother Lion ALSO HAS A CRUSH ON. DUN DUN DUUUUN.
I first heard of the CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend when I saw an advertisement for it at the subway station nearest my apartment. The poster featured a woman in a pink dress holding a heart-shaped balloon, the show’s title beside her in the boldest typeface possible: CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND. Beneath that, a rogue feminist had pasted a sticker, one I’ve seen plastered to many different subway displays — usually plastic surgery ads with language implying that if you have boobs, they probably aren’t big enough. The sticker says: This insults women.
I looked at the ad for a few moments more, thought, ‘huh, I guess that’s true,’ and continued on my way.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I listened to an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — one of my most trusted sources for recommendations — and learned, to my surprise, that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not an insult to women at all. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.
It’s been more than a year since then, and with its third season premiering later this month, Rachel Bloom’s absurdist musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has wormed its way into the hearts of many, myself (and Emmy voters) included. However, despite the show’s critical acclaim, there are still quite a few people who haven’t watched it and don’t plan to anytime soon, either because they have preconceived notions about it based on the title (like I used to), or because there is, quite frankly, a shitload of good television to catch up on, and the CW doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to “peak TV.”
So, if you’re one of those people who has yet to give Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a chance, I am writing this for YOU — to convince you that if you aren’t watching it yet, you really, really should be. You can find my top five reasons after the cut.
Ingrid Goes West surprised me.
I try not to have too many expectations going into movies these days, but once I saw the trailer for Matt Spicer’s feature directorial debut, I had a pretty good idea of how I would react to the film. Going in, I was expecting a reasonably funny (albeit gimmicky) Aubrey Plaza-driven romp through California — one of those quirky Sundance comedies that does its job as entertainment but fails to sustain itself after a first viewing because it doesn't say or do anything that’s not been said or done the same way before. I thought I’d probably like it — not love it — for the same reasons, and that I’d forget about it after a couple of hours and move on with my life.
Two days later, I’m still thinking about it. In fact, I imagine that I will be thinking about this film for a long time. It may have a plot summary that reads like a clickbait article, but this film is so much more than a comedy about an Instagram stalker. Grounded by a career-best performance from Aubrey Plaza and a surprisingly likable cast of supporting characters, Ingrid Goes West is a film about mental illness, grief, and the way we interact with social media when we think no one is watching us (or when we hope someone is).
Emily has already covered many of the things I loved about The National Theatre’s production of Angels in America, including Andrew Garfield’s stunning performance and questionable comments about what it means to be a gay man in America (I like RuPaul’s Drag Race, too, Andrew, and I’m not a gay man as far as I can tell). One thing Emily and I both agree on is how fantastic Harper is. As one of the few women in the play, Denise Gough shines as Harper, commanding attention each time she’s on the stage. Harper is funny, sad, and above all, strong. She also inhabits a liminal space for much of the play, a nowhere place somewhere between delusion and dream, where she meets Prior and sees visions of her husband Joe. Harper’s visions are one reason why audiences and scholars have called Angels in America magical realism, or something close to it.
I have to disagree. Magical realism, in this case, might be a way of shirking off the more painful reality of the play: Harper’s mental illness.
My thoughts about The National Theatre’s production of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes might be a little scattered. And you’re just going to have to deal with that. Way back when I was getting my MFA (which seems like forever ago, even though I know it wasn’t… but that’s neither here nor there), I wrote an awful paper about Tony Kushner’s play, so my hope is to do slightly better this time. It’s a hard play for me to write about because it’s such an ambitious work while at the same time being so personal.
Maybe the play’s ambition is why the opportunity to see it performed in its two-part eight-hour entirety has yet to present itself to me. Now thanks to the National Theatre Live, at last I’m getting to see a theatrical version of this play that I love so dearly. My only previous experience with Angels in America has been through studying it for a Contemporary Theatre class and, of course, seeing the HBO Miniseries. The Miniseries is incredible, by the way, and you should absolutely watch it if you haven’t.
But being fortunate enough to finally see this performed onstage, even broadcasted from London, was like discovering the play all over again. For this blog entry, I want to examine what struck me about seeing this version of Angels in America. In order of most important to the very most important, here is my list. I love a good list:
Mary and Emily are all in on their July Young Adult Book Club selection, The Upside of Unrequited by Beck Albertalli, which is why this review is coming a little early in the month. They just couldn't wait to talk about it. Let's get into it, shall we?
Mary: This month we're reading The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. On its surface, this book is a typical teen romance, following twins Molly and Cassie as they navigate growing up and relationships. Molly has had crushes on 26 guys before, but never actually dated anyone, while Cassie has been more vocal about her likes and dislikes, but also remains somewhat inexperienced. One thing that sets this book apart from other YA novels is that Molly is fat--but she doesn't really let it define her. I study YA lit and focus on fat characters specifically, and I have to say, I loved this book so much. I was shocked at how Albertalli communicated Molly's discomfort in her own body while also not having it be an issue to some extent. Or having how society views fat people be an issue.
Emily: I also loved this book. I think it was great to see a fat character whose soul desire wasn't to lose weight and "be prettier," but rather she wished to live in a world where she feels more comfortable with the body she's in.
Emily: And a lot of her discomfort was around how other people acted towards her or how she imagined other people acted towards her, rather than how she felt about herself. In fact, at one point she says she doesn't hate her body, but she's afraid other people will hate her body.
Mary: She's internalized what others say about fat bodies and started to think that way, even though she rationally knows she shouldn't.
Emily: Yes, exactly.
Mary: And I mean, really, it's hard not to internalize a lot of that stuff. Fat people are one of the last groups people can make fun of without offending.
I want to start by saying that I'm not the first person to point out the connection between possessed female bodies and burgeoning adolescent female sexuality. The 1973 film The Exorcist, which I would argue is the exorcism tale upon which all other contemporary exorcism stories are based, has been the center of many critiques about what this popular story is saying about the fear of female sexuality.
It's a tale as old as time, really. Girl meets demon, demon takes over girl's body, girl begins to say sexually suggestive things to terrified adults, girl masturbates with a cross, and the terror just escalates from there. In the end, the demon must be exorcised from the young innocent girl's body by a priest, an older male priest to be precise, so that order can be restored. The young innocent girl's tarnished body can only be made right again by the "power of Christ," suggesting the adolescent female body is unclean and this can only be mitigated by submitting to the patriarchal religious leader.
I know I'm harping on The Exorcist here, but that's only because The Exorcist, to me, is the movie that created the demonic possession film genre as we know of it today; the list of movies that follow this pattern of adolescent female possession is ever-growing. And this isn't just Hollywood misogyny; a lot of people believe there is religious precedent for this. Most recently, in the extremely disturbing Netflix docu-series The Keepers, we were shown how religious beliefs about the uncleanness of adolescent female bodies can play out in extremely destructive ways. Women's bodies and minds are traditionally seen as more vulnerable, more susceptible to evil, which is why women need the help of a pious man to guide them away from their demonic predilections.
Or do they?
When I was 16 years old, two of my coworkers at the local public pool told me about the Witches’ Castle. The eerie, supposedly haunted structure was located in Utica, Indiana, just a few miles away from my hometown. The two girls were stunned that I’d never heard of it, especially since it was one stop on the all-night torture-and-beating spree of 12-year-old Shanda Sharer in 1992 – a night that ended with her brutal murder. The Witches’ Castle already had lore surrounding it, but after Shanda’s murder, it became a local legend.
Like any adventurous teen girls in this situation would do, the three of us planned an after-work trip to the Witches’ Castle to see it for ourselves. There, in some shallow woods on a hill overlooking the Ohio River, were the stone remains of an old, creepy set of small buildings. Weather-beaten and overgrown, the crumbling structures immediately gave me an unsettled feeling. Shanda’s murder had been 12 years ago, but knowing that she’d been brought to this spot and beaten was enough to make it feel weird – maybe even wrong – to be there.
After I got home that evening, the first thing I did was ask my mom if she remembered the story of Shanda’s murder, an event I had never heard of before that summer. She remembered it pretty well and told me a book had been written about it. I immediately found and read the book. Then I found another book. I had to know everything I could about Shanda Sharer and the four teenage girls, ages 15 to 17, who killed her.
Shanda’s murder was the crime that got me hooked on crime. I don’t know if it was her young age, the fact that her killers were the same age as my friends and me, or the proximity to my hometown, but I was fixated with what happened to Shanda and why. I wondered how disturbing my Internet search history would look to anyone else. I searched for articles about the trials, about Shanda’s family, about when the killers would be released from prison. I looked for photos of Shanda and her killers that might not have been included in the books I read. I wanted to know what our local papers said about this tragedy back in 1992. Was I a full-on weirdo?
About the Blog
The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.