Background Reading for My Novel: “Rainbow Boys” by Alex Sanchez


I generally like to review a book as soon as possible after I have read it, knowing that my recollection of the story’s details and what I liked and disliked about the book are not going to improve with the passage of time, unlike a good bottle of wine. The wisdom of that perspective was born out when I allowed more than a month to pass from the time I read Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez and when I decided late yesterday to write a review. Having read two other books since then, I was struggling last night to remember the minutiae of the novel and wound up skimming it for about half an hour to reacquaint myself with it.

Regarded as YA fiction the book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance when the story begins. Jason is a popular jock with a steady girlfriend who frequently has dreams about sex with other guys. Kyle knows he is gay but wants to remain closeted both to his classmates and family and who has a serious crush on Jason. Nelson or Nelly as he is disparagingly called by his classmates is out to the world and has a mother who gives him a level of support that most gay teens only wish they had. He and Kyle are good friends; to complete the triangle of emotional entanglement, Nelson secretly swoons over Kyle. When the story begins¬† Jason with much trepidation decides to attend a Rainbow Youth meeting after postponing for weeks going to it. Amongst the twenty or so youth there he spots Nelson and Kyle and is horrified that he is now going to be outed at school by the flamboyant Nelson. He’s also confused seeing Kyle there who, though while not quite the jock that Jason is, is a star of the swim team and does not fit his image of a faggot.

The novel proceeds to trace the events in the lives of these three young men as their lives become increasingly intertwined and as Nelson and Kyle take on the challenge of trying to start a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at Whitman High. There are wonderfully touching moments in the book, some quite humorous, some capturing the thrill of first sexually satisfying intimacy, and others disturbingly portraying ugly homophobia. I felt the author did a very credible job creating believable characters, capturing the pathos of each of their situations. Certainly the journey that Jason travels is the steepest but by the novel’s end all three individuals are stronger and more self-confident.

At the end of the book the author provides a very useful list and description of ten resources for teens struggling with sexuality issues, such as the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network),  Advocates for Youth, Youth Guardian Services, leaving little doubt that his story is intended for the YA audience. However this is a book that I believe has a much wider appeal than young adults and one I found not only very enjoyable but very useful for me in writing my novel, whose protagonist is a contemporary gay man in his late teens.

First published in 2001, Rainbow Boys was Alex Sanchez’s first novel and was selected as a “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 2002. This was the first of his Rainbow trilogy; he has written a number of other books as well, all of which have received positive reviews. Thank you Alex for a good story and for helping to make me a better writer.