All artistic endeavors can have real emotional power. Whether it’s film, sculpture, art or writing, artistry at its core has the potential to latch on to a piece of you and push you to burst out with laughter, or crash to the floor in a pile of tears. Usually, you never know what to expect, or when it might happen, but when it does, it feels like a breath of fresh air. The real magic lies in the fact that no one piece of art will affect any two people the same, as art triggers subconscious feelings and emotions, tapping into the background, the personalities and the state of mind of each individual viewer. Everyone’s past experiences — our joy and pain, our dreams and failures — are different, and thus what may cause one person to laugh may cause another to cry or be offended. At the same time, their are some works of art that are universal in nature, meaning that the majority of people have experienced what the artist is attempting to convey in some form or another. In relation to Andrew Toy’s coming-of-age novel, I Am the Lion, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone wouldn’t somehow be affected by the story of grief and loss, and the journey to find a way to live without a love you once possessed.
The story revolves around a young girl named Lydia, who recently lost her mother, Elizabeth, to a violent attack at the mall. Attempting to cope with this tragedy, Lydia has closed herself off to the world, refusing to speak to anyone, including her father, Henry, who has all but shut down emotionally in the wake of his wife’s murder (and occasionally “blacking out” to the point of having bipolar episodes in which Elizabeth is still there with them). They both love each other very much, but without Elizabeth, neither knows quite how to communicate with the other, causing a tension to build up between them that they don’t know how to rectify. One major reason for this is Henry’s refusal to allow anyone — including himself — to talk about Elizabeth, desperately hoping to bury her memory deep down where it won’t hurt either of them. All this does, though, is keep both Henry and Lydia from truly healing.
This interesting father/daughter dynamic allows Andrew to craft some very intense and emotional sequences between them and those they begin to reach out to for help. It may be ironic that Andrew’s narrative shines brightest when he digs into the deepest, darkest of places. One scene in particular, when Lydia’s teacher, Norman, whom Henry has asked to stay with Lydia after school to help bring her back to the lively child she used to be before her mother’s death, has her circle words on the whiteboard that remind her of her mother. The scene is so gut-wrenching, I felt Andrew’s heart pouring out onto the page as he crafted such elegantly heartbreaking prose. It’s a shame, then, that I couldn’t find as much masterful passion throughout the entire book. Compared to scenes like the one mentioned, there are numerous moments when the writing feels extremely labored and forced, or dialogue comes off as amateurish, as if Andrew was simply filling in the gaps so that he could get to that next moment in his outline. It causes the story to feel extremely rushed; there’s more to the story we’re not being told. On top of that, there seem to be a lot of ideas or plot points that are set up and then forgotten or discarded without any real mention as to why.
Lydia’s story, as well as her emotional growth and development, is very well told. Andrew never loses track of this thread and does well to guarantee her journey is a complete portrait. Her relationships with other characters, especially Norman’s wife, Kelly, are outstanding and compassionately written. Henry’s journey, on the other hand, doesn’t flow quite so well, mostly because it doesn’t feel as if Andrew knows exactly how the story should be told. Should it be exclusively through Lydia’s perspective (at times referencing Norman and Henry as Mr. Hill and Lydia’s father, respectively), or should it be through an omniscient narrator? One major example would include Henry’s encounter with Rachel, a psychiatrist Norman encourages Henry to meet so that she may assess his state of mind and help him come to terms with his loss. Their interaction is terrific, and I wanted to see more, however, after that first meeting, and a short second meeting to refer him to another psychiatrist, we never see him in actual therapy (because it doesn’t seem he never goes), which I believe is a disservice to the character and his eventual growth. We never get to witness any type of evolution, thus eliminating the power beneath the surface of any possible transformation or breakthrough in character and personality.
Another small issue I had, aside from a narrator who talks as if he’s telling a story from the future (and sums things up as if we’re watching a movie based on true events), was with the twist near the end. There’s kind of an awkward time jump a little more than halfway through the book that leads us into the summer and a pretty big revelation that I’m not sure does much for the overall theme of the book. Mind you, a majority of the scenes that this twist bring about are terrifically written, especially when dealing with the metaphor of Lydia’s stuffed lion being her courage and how she needs that courage to deal with her pain. But I’m still not sold on whether the twist does anything for the characters that couldn’t have been done the same way without it, making the twist feel as if it’s there simply for the sake of having a twist that, for a book like this, isn’t needed at all. The true strength of I Am the Lion is in the father/daughter relationship and how they are able to find a way to survive without the glue that held them together in the first place.
My Grade: B+
Andrew is an author, entrepreneur, father and husband. He’s currently in the process of Beta Reading his third book, a supernatural romance, and is knee deep in his biggest endeavor — building his very own publishing company, Endever Publishing Studios, which has officially begun soliciting manuscripts and is in the midst of their second writing contest. Andrew’s been married for seven years, has a daughter and is in the process of adopting a son.
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If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list. I will be doing one independent book review per month, so not all requests will be accepted.