Queens of the Loud House (My Sister Leni Review)

Source for the Header Image. Artist is TheFreshKnight

Usually, I enjoy a dark gritty TV drama like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. (I may share my thoughts on them someday here.) But every now and then I like to unwind with something lighter. Something silly, like a Three’s Company rerun, or heartwarming like Parks and Recreation. Combine the two and you get The Loud House. It’s the best nicktoon that’s come down the pike in a very long time, something that would have fit right at home on the old ’90s block. If you’re not familiar, it’s a show about a boy named Lincoln Loud, who has 10 sisters of various ages, each with their own exaggerated personality. For the purposes of this post, there’s two in particular you need to be familiar with.

My Favorite Leni Moment (9 seconds in):
Lisa: “Wait, you’re lactose intolerant!”
Leni: “No I’m not! I’m tolerant of everyone, whether they lack toes or not.”

Lori

Lincoln’s oldest sister is Lori (17.) She can be pretty bossy and quick to frustration towards her other siblings, but when push comes to shove she cares deeply for them. A lot of episodes where she plays a centric role involve her relationship with Bobby and vying for popularity. The selfie episode is a perfect example of both. But while she doesn’t dole them out as easily as her sister Leni, Lori gets perhaps the sweetest moment in the entire series. This comes in S3E2, “White Hare” where she spearheads a sisterly pep talk towards Lincoln about the importance of being himself. (All sisters were involved, but I found Lori’s specific comments to be the most heartwarming, especially considering how aloof she often is.)

I also find Lori to be the most grounded of the Loud children, as some of the other sisters are a bit too one-note or caricatured to be believable people. Lori has a consistent and compelling personality flaw where she worries about being useless or powerless. This manifests in her abusing her responsibilities as the oldest sibling (with babysitting the others and ability to drive) to boss around the others or demand favors from them. On face value it’s a mark against her, but it’s the mark of a great character to have believable flaws, and in this case it leads to some genuine moments between herself and Lincoln after he understands where these behaviors come from. Their dynamic is probably the most realistic (balancing sibling rivalry and misunderstanding with moments of protective love) in the series.

Behind Lori’s tough veneer is a good bit of vulnerability

Leni

The second-oldest sister, Leni (16), is at face value the classic ditzy blonde stereotype. But what makes her special (at least to me) is that she’s not catty or superficial as most “dumb blonde” archetypes are. Instead of the usual prissy cheerleader or Karen Smith-analog, she’s far and away the most compassionate and protective of the Loud Siblings. It makes her ignorance come across like that of a big kid, someone who never lost their innocent view of the world, as opposed to a mean popular girl who’s dumb simply because she gets handed everything and never had to think for herself as a result.

Some of my favorite moments of the show are her interactions with Lincoln–I love the way she calls him “Linky” (the only one to do so) and seeks to build up his confidence. This is a sister who rescued a creature she’s deathly afraid of for her little brother. Who learned to drive (a monumental undertaking for Leni) in order to help her siblings get around without indenturing themselves to Lori. In an episode where some Loud siblings are sick (and acting like zombies for comedic effect) Leni alone tries to nurse them back to health while the other non-infected Louds focus on breaking out of the house. As a kid, I always wanted a big sister like that, but obviously it was not to be. Leni is the kind of idealized sister I imagined whenever I wanted someone older and caring I could go to for advice that wasn’t my parents.

Also, she likes fashion and designs her own clothes.

My Sister Leni: An Unusually Interesting Fanfic

The fundamental flaw of The Loud House for me, if indeed there is one, would be the size of the cast drowning out the more interesting characters like Leni and Lori. The other sisters are cool too and have their own moments, but personally I don’t feel the same connection towards them, and Lincoln’s friends have never done anything for me either. It’s for this reason I felt compelled to do something I never have before, which was to seek out fanfiction about the eldest Loud siblings. For me, the show itself was a great jumping off point but I wanted to see a more in-depth and possibly more mature take on these two siblings.

That brings us to the real focus of this post. Right now I’m in the midst of this adorable story called My Sister Leni by Gumball2. It’s over 270k words long, which is larger than most published novels. I’m new to the fanfiction community, so hardly an authority, but for my money this is the best example of the genre I’ve read. Admittedly I’m not finished yet, but I am about two-thirds of the way through and thus far my only complaint is the lack of a spell-check at times. (When I finally get around to finishing the whole thing, I will share an addendum to this post if I have anything substantive to add.)

My Sister Leni reinterprets the titular character as being on the autistic spectrum as opposed to just dimwitted. Apparently a sizable chunk of Loud House fans also believe in this theory. I’m not sure if I subscribe to this characterization being canonical or not, but it would be an interesting direction for the show to take, and there seem to be some easter eggs hinting at that intention. For example, Leni’s puzzle (puzzles being the symbol of autism awareness.) Whether the showrunners intend it or not, it’s a fascinating take on Leni and largely consistent with her actions on the show.

The story follows Leni from Kindergarten through High School as she bonds with her siblings, tries to learn the nuances of emotion and make friends. We see the world through a third person omniscient narrator, mostly following Leni’s experiences and inner monologue but sometimes focusing on Lori’s reactions to Leni as well. Most of the Chapters are these adorable, slice-of-life vignettes. The one that convinced me I needed to read to the end was Chapter 4, where Leni and her sisters watch The Land Before Time and she strongly identifies with Ducky. (The author uses this admiration to explain Leni’s unusual “raptor walk” on the show, where her arms are folded up to her torso.)

The Definitive Leni Loud Saga

Chapters 10, 14, 15, 27 and 28 contain some heartwarming moments between Leni and Lincoln (who’s a newborn in the first two) which show how much she cares for her little brother. It may sound stupid, but I came close to tearing up at times reading them, especially with how profoundly Leni blames herself anytime Lincoln cries while under her care, or anytime she feels as though she’s failed him as a big sister. I’m not sure if this is what Gumball2 was going for, but it reminds me a bit of Lenny from Of Mice and Men (whom Leni was named after) as a well meaning caretaker who nonetheless hurts the objects under her care. The interplay between Leni and Lincoln represent the cutest moments in the story.

Chapters 3, 11, 17, 24 and 27 contain some great interplay between Leni and Lori. In them, Leni is able to see through her sister’s put-on toughness and she alone understands how insecure Lori really is. Gumball2 is able to take the throwaway sight gag of Lori wearing a drill sergeant’s uniform while babysitting and flesh it out into a compelling character arc about her need to feel powerful and important. Meanwhile, these chapters feature Lori noticing how hard it is for Leni to make friends, or how awkward Leni’s mannerisms are in general. Lori can’t always think of what to do in order to help her sister and sometimes gets ornery towards her. It can be sad to witness, but it’s honest in that most teenagers wouldn’t be able to handle someone like Leni all the time and be as patient as they ought to. It’s true to most real sibling dynamics as there’s dysfunction, but sincere love underneath.

Thus far (Chapter 37 for me), my favorite subplot was Leni becoming friends with Lori’s rival, Carol Pingrey and the hi-jinx that ensued when Leni tries to get both girls to make up. Leni’s just too naive to understand that sometimes people simply don’t click. It’s very sincere on her part, but you can understand the awkward situation it puts Lori in. This subplot really fleshed out Gumball2’s version of Lori as well, since we see the source of her insecurity is Carol’s bullying from an earlier grade. I found myself identifying with Lori’s reluctance to forgive a bully who’s since turned over a new leaf (or, has charmed a mutual friend into believing they’re not so bad.) These are the kinds of complicated real life situations I’ve often wanted from the show itself, so it’s great to see something fill that void.

However, the best individual chapter thus far has to be Chapter 15 (“For Linky”), where Leni tries to get a birthday present for Lincoln (who is still a toddler at this point in the story.) I don’t want to spoil how this situation plays out just in case I’ve convinced any of you to read the story for yourself. I always find myself touched by how much Leni cares for her brother even if she’s not always the best at expressing it. The whole time reading I was just in awe of how pure her intentions were, if a little misguided, so much so that the ending had me legitimately tearing up. It’s especially beautiful when you consider Lincoln still openly cherishes the gift Leni ends up giving him in the actual show when he’s at age 11. It’s one of several dozen details in the fanfic that are just so well thought out and sweet that you wish they were canonical in the show. There are many great Chapters in the story, but this one in particular is so compelling that I honestly believe it would make for a great plotline of the show if they were willing to do an extended flashback episode.

In conclusion, My Sister Leni is a great read if you like the show, and leaves me with a warm feeling every time I get around to finishing another segment. (Unfortunately this isn’t as frequently as I’d sometimes like as of late.) As of right now, I’m most looking forward to seeing how the friendship with Helen will develop and if Leni will find a way to do something great for the underprivileged. It’s been wonderful seeing her come into herself over the last 36 chapters, going from a nobody who sits with strangers at lunch to a confident woman. It may not be as “deep” or topical as some of the other media I consume, but there’s something to be said for taking a break from the weary aspects of life and unwinding with a feel-good story about childhood innocence and overcoming personal adversity. In their own way, those kinds of stories are just as thought-provoking and important as something like Mr. Robot or studying current events.

Technically this is Leni with Lily (the youngest Loud sibling) not baby-Lincoln. But the dynamic is the same 🙂



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