Hello everyone! It’s Isela here for another Sunday interview! I’m joined today by Brandy Colbert, author of Pointe and winner of the 2014 Cybils Award, to talk about her second novel Little & Lion. In her book, Brandy captures many powerful teen struggles that will had invested with her characters from the very first chapter. I encourage you to pick up both her novels in stores today! You can also look forward to her third novel, Finding Yvonne, coming out in 2018! Now let’s get to the interview!
Isela: Hey Brandy! I loved that your second novel Little & Lion has so many relatable themes for teens! Can you tell our readers a little bit of what it's about?
Brandy: Thank you! Little & Lion is a story about a sister and brother who are trying to navigate their changing relationship after Lionel has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Suzette was sent away to boarding school because of it. Back for the summer, Suzette feels responsible for Lionel's happiness and is also trying to figure out if she likes girls, guys, or both.
Isela: How did you get such a close perspective on bipolar disorder? Do you have any experience with this condition, or did you just do a lot of research?
Brandy: Mental illness wasn't really talked about when I was growing up, and it's such a sensitive topic in general that I've always wanted to explore it in various ways through my work. I was nervous to write about bipolar disorder, because first and foremost, I want to be respectful to the groups I'm writing about. I did a lot of research, primarily reading memoirs by people with bipolar disorder, along with some interviews. I'm grateful to all the people who choose to share their stories, difficult as they are.
Isela: So are you more of a Little or a Lion?
Brandy: Oooh, I think I am more of a Lionel. I have great friends, but I also enjoy spending time alone. Of course I love books, and I've always thought Lionel was a bit cynical, which I admittedly relate to.
Isela: There's that powerful scene at the pool where Suzette and Emil confront racism head-on. What do you hope your teen readers will take away from that scene?
Brandy: I hope the readers who have never experienced racism firsthand will understand how demoralizing it is to have people make jokes at your expense. What seems like an innocent comment to a friend can often be rooted in stereotypes that perpetuate the discrimination and inequality of a marginalized group. And I hope that readers who have experienced moments like that with close acquaintances or friends know that they're not alone and it's okay to speak up when someone says something that makes you uncomfortable.
Isela: What kind of future do you imagine for Suzette after the novel ends?
Brandy: I like somewhat open endings for my books, so I haven't thought too much about where she ends up. I hope that all the characters are at least a little happier than they were in the book.
Isela: What advice do you have to for teens questioning their sexuality and feeling the pressure to label themselves?
Brandy: To be honest, I don't feel qualified to answer this as a straight woman who hasn't questioned her sexuality. But it's always my wish that people are able to be true to themselves and comfortable with themselves as soon as possible in life. And, of course, empathy and kindness are essential if you have a friend, family member, or classmate who is struggling with the choices of how or if to define themselves.
Isela: Since your two novels are so different from each other, how was the writing process different when writing Pointe as opposed to Little & Lion?
Brandy: Writers always say the second book is harder, and that was true for me, too. You have all these voices in your head and expectations to meet once people have read your first book, and there's always that unspoken pressure to follow it up with something as good as, if not better than, your debut.
Isela: In addition to being an author, you're also a copy editor, which means you do a lot of reading. What are some of your all-time favorite young adult novels?
Brandy: I do read a lot, and I don't have nearly as much time to read for fun, so when I do, I'm quite picky. Some of my all-time favorites are: Hold Still by Nina LaCour, Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry, and (an oldie but goodie) How Do You Lose Those Ninth-Grade Blues? by Barthe DeClements. Some recent favorites are What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, and Calling My Name by Liara Tamani.
Isela: So what's in store for you? Do you have another novel in the works or any other projects coming up?
Brandy: I'm excited to have another novel out in August 2018, called Finding Yvonne. It's about a girl who has trouble deciding what she's going to do after graduation, which guy to choose, and what to do when she becomes unexpectedly pregnant. It's about food, loneliness, complicated family relationships, music, unresolved grief, and tough choices.
That’s it for today’s interview with Brandy! But don’t leave before submitting your vote for Best YA Book of 2017. You can vote for Little & Lion or any other YA book you’ve enjoyed from this past year. We’ll be announcing our final list next week, so be sure to come back then and see if your recommendation made the cut.