Worlds & Time

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez

I'm currently reading a set of YA books aimed at gay teens (Rainbow Boys, Rainbow High, Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez). I figured they'd be candy soft books about characters that might as well be heterosexual except for an unmoving scene in which they come out to their parents. And kiss some cute guys.

Yeah, I couldn't have been more wrong about that. I've been very surprised by some of the issues that these books addressed such as unprotected sex, dating HIV positive guys, bisexuality and having alcoholic or absent father figures. Not to mention the genre classics of coming out and having a crush on your best friend.

In fact, some of the themes were more adult than some fiction written for adult gay guys. The three rainbow boys of the title have sex, drink, and occasionally fight amongst themselves. Yeah, they don't deal with any "hard" drugs but that's the only thing that I can point out that most gay guys have to deal with that the characters didn't have to deal with at some point or another.

After I'd finished them, I was wondering if I would recommend them to younger readers. I'm having this remarkably prudish "No" reaction, which I'm trying to fight down and kill. These are the kids of books that young gay guys need to read, involving interesting characters that they can both aspire to be and at the same time relate to.

Granted, there are some stereotypes at work in the books. Jason is the gay jock. Kyle is the geeky gay swimmer. Nelson is the flaming queen. Still, the book manages to turn these gay archetypes into interesting and well rounded characters. Jason is Hispanic and his father is an abusive alcoholic (his mother is in Al-Anon). Nelson's mom is the PFLAG mother but he has to deal with a distant and disinterested father and his own rash behavior. Kyle is supposed to be the geek but to me he comes across as the most normal guy, since "geek" doesn't lend itself well to gay stereotypes yet.

Kyle's also at the center of the plot, in a vague way. The books seem to pride themselves on approaching each chapter from another of the protagonists view, and this often provides valuable insight into the various personal problems all of them have, however Kyle is Nelson's best friend and eventually Jason's boyfriend. Were it not for his connection to the other two characters I suspect that Jason and Nelson's stories would have been completely separate books.

Aside from the heavy issues, I did like the variety of response that the characters faced. These books didn't portray and idyllic gay paradise where homophobia and disease don't exist but it wasn't a perfect hell either. For example, Jason the basketball player comes out to his team with the help of his coach and the guys on the team take it well. On the other hand, Kyle's swim team harasses him numerous times while the swim coach stands off to the side with a "What can I do?" smug smile on her face.

Personally, the person that I had the most problem with was Nelson. Nelson is incapable of pretending that he's not gay and I've definitely met people like him before in my life. Unfortunately, Nelson taught me that the ability to "pass" for a heterosexual is part of socialization: he comes across as nearly a sociopath, uninterested in the feelings of the people around him and unable to think about the consequences of his actions more than a few seconds out. Considering that he is the character that has unprotected sex, boozes it up, does the drugs, and intentionally tries to piss off the rednecks during their drive across country, I really felt that he got off too lightly. While Jason and Kyle have their own emotional drama to live out, Nelson manages to skate through the books without much more than a slow progression of hair color.

Despite my dislike for Nelson, I can't deny that the books were a pretty good read.

And I get to fantasize about Kyle. Mmmmmmm . . .

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