Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez is a 2001 young adult novel that details the challenges of three different gay or bisexual boys in a typical American high school. In the story, readers are introduced to Jason, Kyle, and Nelson, all in different stages of dealing with their same-sex attractions. Initially, closeted jock Jason finds a friend and eventual romantic partner with shy but kind swimmer Kyle. This of course leaves out Kyle’s first gay friend, the flamboyant and openly gay Nelson. The main conflicts as the story advances are Jason’s struggle to identify as a popular jock who is also gay, Nelson’s unrequited love for Kyle and eventual rash decision to have sex with a random man from the internet, and Kyle trying to balance the troubles of his two best friends and a father resistant to his identity. The narrative alternates perspective between each of the three protagonists, allowing readers to experience a variety of realistic portrayals of gay life. The book has been recognized as a “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association and was named a “Young Adults’ Choice” by the International Reading Association.
Like our project model, the story believes in the importance of varying perspectives, with these different viewpoints coming together to form one greater picture of life as a gay teenager. For young readers contemplating their own state of attraction, the variety of experiences portrayed in Rainbow Boys is undoubtedly a source of inspiration for some of the great battles they may be facing with little to no guidance in hetero-normative society. Common Sense Media, which offers reviews of literature and movies that include appropriate age recommendations for parents, reviewed Rainbow Boys and suggested the story is best-fitted for readers 15 and older. Indeed, the sexual content and emotion is more apt for older teens—which created conflict when a middle school student found it on the summer reading shelf in Webster. Now, over a decade and a half after it was published, the book’s dialogue has been criticized as unnatural and characters besides the three protagonists often seem cliched, but it’s clear the Sanchez had a focus on creating a handful of plot-driven, distinct demonstrations of life as a gay teen in an otherwise plain existence, hoping to reach out to as many readers as possible.
Sex scenes in Rainbow Boys concerned many of the challengers in Webster and across the country, though Sanchez creates these scenes with a purpose in identity building for LGBT teens. For example, early in the story, “popular guy” Jason is struggling with attractions to his friend Kyle, and as Jason and his girlfriend are engaging sexually,
“He watched her through the blur of half closed eyes, then suddenly it was no longer Debra but Kyle, her red hair transformed into Kyle’s cap” (32).
Here, the sex scene serves a very clear purpose: to demonstrate that, despite being in a straight relationship, Jason is struggling with—possibly unwanted—feelings of same sex attraction. Later in the story, as Nelson bemoans Kyle and Jason’s relationship, he decides against telling Kyle how he truly feels, electing rather to engage in unprotected sex with a man he meets online. This scene is one that likely drew criticism from challenging parents; yet, its clear orientation towards the quick-to-react brains of emotional adolescents offers a powerful lesson as Nelson contracts HIV as a result of his impulsive, uninformed decision.
While most criticism of the story comes from conservative groups, pro-LGBT concerns have centered on the stereotypical portrayal of gay life that some fear may do more harm than good. Writing in his 2008 article, “The Trouble with Rainbow Boys,” Thomas Crisp argues, “the contributions made by the series may be overshadowed by its reliance on heteronormative gender stereotypes that may actually work to perpetuate homophobic attitudes toward gay sexuality.” Indeed, Rainbow Boys walks a tight-rope of trying to relate to a variety of readers of all sexualities and giving honest, unique portrayals of gay life. In 2018, the story is older than most of its high school readers, and Webster Thomas has replaced the book with more current reflections of life as a gay teen, but in the early 2000s, the experiences in Rainbow Boys surely helped countless teens struggling to build an identity.
Crisp, Thomas. (2008). The Trouble with Rainbow Boys. Children s Literature in Education. 39. 237-261. 10.1007/s10583-007-9057-1.
Sanchez, Alex. Rainbow Boys. N.p.: Simon and Schulster, 2001. Print.
Image: Sanchez, Alex. ALA Award. Digital image. Www.alexsanchez.com. N.p., 12 Nov. 2013. Web.
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