RAINBOW BOYS

Jason Carrillo is a jock with a steady girlfriend, but he can't stop dreaming about sex...with other guys. 


Kyle Meeks doesn't look gay, but he is. And he hopes he never has to tell anyone -- especially his parents. 
 

Nelson Glassman is "out" to the entire world, but he can't tell the boy he loves that he wants to be more than just friends. 
 

Three teenage boys, coming of age and out of the closet. In a revealing debut novel that percolates with passion and wit, Alex Sanchez follows these very different high-school seniors as their struggles with sexuality and intolerance draw them into a triangle of love, betrayal, and ultimately, friendship.

  •  American Library Association "Best Book for Young Adults" 

  • International Reading Association “Young Adults’ Choice” 

  • New York Public Library “Book for the Teen Age” 

  • Lambda Literary Award 2001 Finalist

  • Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books “Blue Ribbon Winner,” 

Read the praise (warning: reviews contain "spoilers"):
 

School Library Journal:  Gr 9 Up-Nelson, "out" to the world, is secretly in love with his best friend Kyle. Kyle doesn't look gay or advertise it, but since he hangs out with Nelson, he's subject to the same harassment at school. Kyle is secretly in love with Jason, a popular jock who has a popular girlfriend but who can't stop dreaming of sex with boys. When Jason, trying to sort out his confusion, shows up at a Rainbow Youth meeting, he is greeted by both "Nelly" and Kyle, who are as shocked to see him as he is to be seen. This uncomfortable confrontation starts the ball rolling down a path of deception, denial, revelation, and acceptance not only for the three young men, but also for their friends, family, and all concerned. This gutsy, in-your-face debut novel speaks the language of real life for gay teens, that of the ecstasy, heartache, and humor of first love (and sex), that of daily harassment and fear, that of having what it takes to stand up and be proud of who you are. There will no doubt be challenges to Rainbow Boys, much like the challenges of Judy Blume's Forever (Turtleback, 1975) when it was published in the 1970s. But please, have the courage to make it available to those who need it-it can open eyes and change lives.-Betty S. Evans, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield 

Publisher's Weekly:  Sanchez's debut novel chronicles the senior year of three gay teens struggling with issues ranging from coming out to first love to an HIV scare. The story lines communicate a hint of an educational agenda (Sanchez sprinkles in the names of support groups like Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays into the novel, and lists contact information for organizations at the end), but the characters' complicated feelings are well drawn, and readers will find themselves interested in each of the protagonists' lives. Sanchez creates modern situations that speak to contemporary teens: Nelson and Kyle stand up to their principal for the right to form a gay-straight alliance at their school, and Nelson has unprotected sex with a stranger he meets online. The relationship between Kyle and closeted jock Jason also develops realistically, and the awkward triangle among the three males builds subtly and convincingly. Readers will learn and understand both boys' perspectives, from Jason's fear that he will be found out to Kyle's growing agitation at his mixed messages. Some of the writing is stilted ("You would've thought the prodigal son had come home," Sanchez writes when Kyle finally connects with his father), and some of the language and sexual situations may be too mature for some readers, but overall there's enough conflict, humor and tenderness to make this story believableDand touching. Ages 12-up. (Oct).

Kirkus Reviews: The lives of three suburban high school students become dramatically entangled in a manner familiar mostly to high-schoolers and soap-opera fans. Jason has a girlfriend (with whom he has sex), but he thinks a lot about male bodies and increasingly questions his sexuality. Kyle is the star of the swimming team who has known for a long time that he's gay, but he's still in the closet. Nelson is openly-and flamboyantly-gay. Jason is going steady with Debra; Kyle has a crush on Jason; Nelson has a crush on Kyle. Two of the boys have loving, concerned parents. One comes from a troubled family with an alcoholic father. And those are not nearly all the plots and subplots, all of which more or less get tied up by the end. The chapters rotate among the viewpoints of the three boys, a narrative technique that provides a crystal picture of each character. It also drives home the homophobia at school and the abuse the guys suffer and provides a lot of information about gay sexuality in the same way that Judy Blume's Forever did for the heterosexual experience. Unlike some earlier novels about homosexuality, the persecution of the three boys is named plainly for what it is-homophobia-and not the hand of a punishing fate. Although marred by occasional melodramatic turns and some contrivance in the ending, this is a fine first effort, thought-provoking and informative for all young adults. The use of profanity and explicit descriptions of sexual activities call for a mature reader. There is a list of advocacy groups at the end, unusual in a novel, but understandable, perhaps necessary, in this one. (Fiction. YA) 

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:  Young adult literature is often populated by token lone gay figures or, occasionally, a duo of queer teens lucky enough to find one another and instantly fall in love. Growing up gay is rarely so simple, as Sanchez shows in this coming-of-age novel told from the perspectives of three gay seniors-Jason Carillo, Nelson Glassman, and Kyle Meeks-who go to the same high school.
 

Jason is a popular kid and star athlete who's just beginning to come to terms with the possibility that his sexual orientation may be more complex than he has previously acknowledged, as he notices his desire for his girlfriend waning and his sexual dreams about men increasing. Hoping to slip in unnoticed to a Rainbow Youth meeting, he is stunned to encounter Nelson, an openly gay classmate, along with Nelson's friend Kyle; Jason has seen Kyle, a shy swimmer, "with Nelson at school, but he looked so... normal." Kyle in turn is thrilled: he has had a crush on Jason for ages, and he's ecstatic at the possibility of his dreams coming true. Nelson notices Kyle's excitement and responds with a jealousy that surprises him, leading him to realize that he may be in love with his best friend, who doesn't seem to love him back. Despite their common orientation, the three boys lead very different lives. Flamboyant Nelson brandishes camp like a weapon, supported by his divorced mother's acceptance and activism. Quiet Kyle is a question mark at school and closeted at home despite his long-term self-awareness. Complicating Jason's interrogation of his sexuality is his abusive alcoholic father, who hurls homophobic epithets as a matter of habit, and his adoring and beloved girlfriend. During the course of the novel, all three characters come more fully to terms with their sexual identities: Jason and Kyle come out to their parents, Kyle and Nelson start a Gay-Straight Alliance group at school in order to resist the sometimes violent homophobia of some of their classmates (Jason readies himself to attend the first meeting as the novel closes), and all three boys cross new sexual thresholds.


Sex is an important part of this book, which is refreshingly honest about the significance of the physical as well as the emotional. When sexual encounters are described, the writing is clear without being explicit or graphic, using a direct but tasteful manner comparable to some of Judy Blume's groundbreaking descriptions of heterosexual encounters; readers will understand exactly what the characters are experiencing without knowing exactly whose what is where. There's no stinting on the emotional, however, and the story pulsates with romantic longing ("They kissed with an urgency from which there was no turning back"). Kyle and Jason's courtship balances psychosocial issues with quite a dewy-eyed love story, complete with thrilling chance encounters and tender mementoes, that might have been at home in Seventeenth Summer. This relationship has its ups and downs, particularly as Jason resists his attraction to Kyle, but their growing intimacy is described with all the sweetness of falling in love for the first time. The love triangle of Jason, Kyle, and Nelson also demonstrates that homosexual romance can be just as personally complicated as heterosexual romance. Yet Sanchez never oversimplifies the parallel, maintaining a strong sense of the cultural and social difficulties faced by gay youth, many of which their heterosexual counterparts may never have imagined.


Additionally, Sanchez writes in breezy prose that brings a bracing lightness and accessibility to potentially heavy topics. His sentences are short and descriptions pithy, and the style easily incorporates both the locker-room rawness and casual informality appropriate to the teen protagonists ("Who would have thought that one day he'd have a gay guy over and together they'd listen to a tape of a group called The Butthole Surfers?"). Though the stories of these three boys refer to a range of issues, from the risks of anonymous sex to the difficulty of coming out (a list of resources is included at the end), the book never allows issues to overshadow the emotional power or slow the pace of the narrative. Instead, the author creates believably nuanced portrayals, offering a rare look at not just one or two, but three gay characters interacting with each other and acting within a larger community of gay and straight characters. When a work of fiction embodies such accuracy and emotional complexity, there is but one word to describe it: true. (Imprint information appears on p. 115.) -- --Kate McDowell, Reviewer

Rainbow Boys Reading Group Guide / 
Discussion Topics:
 

  • On his way to the Rainbow Youth meeting, Jason refers to Nelson as the "school fag." Why? According to Jason, what defines Nelson as homosexual? At the meeting he discovers "a pretty diverse-looking group." What does "gay" look like to Jason? How does Jason stereotype gays and lesbians? How do these stereotypes impact how Jason feels about himself? How does hiding one's identity affect self-esteem?

     

  • "Coming out means you're no longer ashamed to tell people," Shea explains. "It's a question of liking yourself and feeling good about being gay." For many reasons, however, people choose not to come out. Why do Jason and Kyle choose -- to different degrees -- to remain "in the closet" about their sexuality? What helps them gain the confidence to come out to their friends and family? 
     

  • Compare and contrast the boys' family life. What is their relationship like with their parents? What opinion do their parents have on homosexuality? How do Jason's and Kyle's parents respond when they learn their sons are gay? 
     

  • What is homophobia? How does homophobia manifest itself in the boys' school? How do teachers and administrators address the verbal harassment and physical assaults to which Kyle and Nelson are subjected? 
     

  • Nelson and Kyle want to start a Gay-Straight Alliance, or GSA, at their school. What is the purpose of a GSA? In what ways do Nelson and Kyle believe a GSA would benefit students? What is Principal Mueller's opinion? Do you agree or disagree with Principal Mueller? Why? 
     

  • Community is a recurrent theme in Rainbow Boys. For example, the Rainbow Youth Group, Al-Anon, PFLAG, and what Shea describes as the "incredible lesbian community" of Smith College, all play a role. What are the benefits of community? Why would a person seek community support? Conversely, how does the absence of community affect self-esteem and personal development? 
     

  • Nelson puts himself in danger when he agrees to meet an on-line friend in person. Why does Nelson seek relationships on-line? What are the dangers of Internet relationships? Why do you think he agrees to meet in person? 
     

  • Nelson knows how to protect himself from HIV and STDs, but he does not use a condom when he is with Brick. Why? How could he have handled the situation differently? How does Nelson's relationship with Jeremy challenge his thinking about safer sex and relationships? 
     

  • What evidence in the story tells you Nelson is depressed? What factors have contributed to his depression? What is the connection between Nelson's depression and the homophobic attitudes he encounters at school? 
     

  • How have Jason, Kyle, and Nelson each changed by the end of the story? 
     

Suggested Projects and Research
 

  • Write "before and after" journal entries from the perspective of Jason, Kyle, or Nelson. For example, writing from Jason's point of view, think about his feelings before and after attending the Rainbow Youth meeting. How does he feel about the meeting? What questions does he have? What are his fears? For Kyle, consider journal entries before and after tutoring Jason for the first time. Imagine what Nelson might be experiencing before and after attending the school board meeting. 
     

  • Create posters or public service announcements in your school and local newspaper advertising organizations, hot lines, and support groups available to gay teens and their parents. Use the resources in the back of the book to guide your information gathering. 
     

  • Research hate crime legislation on the local, state, and national level. How have gay men and lesbians been affected by discrimination and homophobia? How has law enforcement responded to hate crimes? What is the reaction of the community? On the Internet, visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org and the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) at www.avp.org for more information and helpful hints. 
     

  • Principal Mueller fears a Gay-Straight Alliance will detract from students' learning; Nelson and his mother feel it will promote tolerance and acceptance toward gay students, allowing them to go to school without fear of discrimination and prejudice. Debate the pros and cons of a Gay-Straight Alliance. If your school has a GSA, interview members and adult facilitators. If not, find out what schools, if any, in your area do have a GSA. What effect has the GSA had on school culture? Visit the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network at www.glsen.org to find out more. 
     

  • How are gays and lesbians treated in your school? For example, how do teachers and administrators respond to homophobic remarks and antigay sentiment? How do students treat gay classmates? Are there policies in place that protect students and teachers against discrimination based on sexual orientation? Educate yourself about policies affecting gay students; write a letter to the principal and the school board requesting they adopt an antibias policy to protect gay youth; organize a committee to address these issues in your school. 
     

  • Research the potential dangers of meeting strangers on the Internet. How can teenagers protect themselves from people who may wish to do them harm? Review your school's Internet usage policy. What safeguards does it employ to protect students? 
     

  • Research teen suicide. What factors contribute to teen suicide? What are the warning signs? How does the suicide rate for gay teens compare with those who identify as heterosexual? Visit www.thetrevorproject.org for information on suicide prevention and support groups for gay and questioning youth.

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