Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Brandy Colbert

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-three authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Brandy Colbert

Brandy Colbert is the author of the young adult novel Pointe. Her short fiction and essays have been published in several critically acclaimed anthologies, and her next novel, Little & Lion, will be published on August 8, 2017. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

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Growing up, there wasn’t much room for error.

My parents weren’t overly strict — I chose my friends and my jobs and my extracurricular activities, and I had a reasonable, if not generous, curfew. But there was an understanding, an expectation that rarely had to be voiced: Mediocrity and public failure were not an option. In part because my parents are themselves high achievers who worked hard to make lives they were proud of. But equally if not more important was the fact that we were one of the few black families in town — and especially in our neighborhood.

I didn’t read a lot about The Mothers by Brit Bennett before it came out. The cover copy is vague, and the older I get, the less I want to know about a story going into it. So a few pages in, I never could have guessed how much I would connect emotionally with the main character.

Like Nadia, I went to a nearly all-white school. And, like her, I had a separate community in the black Baptist church that I had attended every Sunday with my family since I was a baby. I felt deeply for Nadia, who was trying to process her grief and loss in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. Losing a parent is a unique experience that I haven’t yet faced, but I connected with her sadness. I was reminded of the confusion and anger and unhappiness I felt in my teen years when I was struggling over having never talked to anyone about my parents’ divorce. Therapy wasn’t a thing in Southwest Missouri — it seemed like a concept that was solely reserved for television shows, and never for black people. As a result, I wasn’t allowed the proper space or time to grieve the fact that the family I loved dearly had been broken in half.

High school was a nice time for me. I did well academically, and I was an enthusiastic member of the dance team. I dealt with my fair share of ignorance around racial issues but for the most part, the people were good. My friends were great. I wore jewel-toned sequined dresses to school dances and crushed incessantly on boys.

I had a typical Midwestern experience as a teen in the 1990s, and I managed to graduate from high school unscathed. But looking back on that time, I’m upset that I felt like I could never reveal the depths of my sadness. I didn’t think my friends would understand, because most of their parents were still together. I was already struggling with being a black kid in a very white school and town, and now I had the additional burden of coming from a broken family, as well.

At church I was trying to remain unnoticed, trying not to read too much into the extra-long hugs and sympathetic smiles when the other members realized that my father had stepped down as a deacon because my parents were splitting up and he’d be going to a different church now.

In Nadia’s story, the Mothers were a collective voice — judging her while at the same time wanting her to do better than they had. I knew this feeling, at both home and church. No matter what I was going through, unresolved emotional pain was not supposed to derail me. I was supposed to be a good student and a good Christian, and I wasn’t supposed to mess up in the first place. I learned early on what my parents and the members of my congregation had known all their lives, too: that in our town, especially, we would be examined more closely and judged more harshly for whatever we did, simply because of our skin color.

Of course I messed up, in various ways. I was a teenager, seeing the world through the eyes of a young adult for the first time. I am human. And as much as I strive for perfectionism — a trait that I can’t quite seem to kick — I still mess up. But, like Nadia, I’ve never let those missteps derail my ambition. It turns out that when you grow up with people expecting a lot from you, that feeling starts to shift inward. I often hear that I seem like a laid-back person, and I have to stop myself from laughing. I put a lot of pressure on myself. And I didn’t recognize the unnecessarily high expectations I constantly set and try to meet until the last few months, after the third or fourth person had pointed out how hard I am on myself.

My parents are proud of me. So are the communities I grew up in, disparate as they were. I take pride in all the work I do. But it never seems like enough.

The dearth of books about black girls when I was growing up meant the titles that did feature someone who looked like me were all virtually the same. I can’t remember reading a book about a black girl who wasn’t enslaved or primarily dealing with systemic oppression. When I began writing professionally, I didn’t set out to cover any certain theme or topic, but I always knew I wanted to focus on the stories of black girls. For the girl I was, and the girls I had always needed to read about.

Whenever I’m asked about the first time I saw myself in a book, I usually think back to college. But really, I didn’t see myself in a novel until I read The Mothers — in my thirties. Nadia Turner is sad and brave and driven and lonely, and she will long remain one of my favorite protagonists.

I like to read and to write about messy, complicated characters and situations because they’re real. Humans are complex. Life is difficult. People mess up.

Authors who cover darker topics often mention leaving hope at the end of their novels. I do this, too. But more than that, I want it to be clear that the girls I write about are going to be okay. Maybe not great. Maybe not even good, at least for a while. But they will recover from the mistakes they’ve made. They will be okay.

Besides…who wants to read about a perfect person, anyway?

Title Little & Lion
Author Brandy Colbert
Pages 336 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Mental Health
To Be Published August 8th, 2017 by Little, Brown
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

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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