By Jeff Walsh
It was strange to read Alex Sanchez's debut novel "Rainbow Boys" for the first time, knowing it had recently been banned from a summer reading list for its sexual content. Part of me had that at the back of my mind, wondering when it was going to get all hot and heavy… and then I hit the last page, wondering what I missed. It was a copy from the library, so maybe someone tore all the sex scenes out?
I should know by now that even implied sex between two teenaged boys is still too much for a lot of people to handle, but this is just a great book showing people in the early stages of accepting their sexuality taking their first awkward steps forward.
The three main characters are in their senior year of high school. Jason Carillo is the jock who decided to attend a gay youth group after talking to someone on a teen hotline. At the meeting, he sees two classmates (everyone's big fear when attending a local meeting for the first time), Kyle Meeks and Nelson Glassman. Jason isn't as surprised to see Nelson there, since he is called "Nelly" at school, and is flamboyant. But Kyle? That's a whole different story.
The great part of Rainbow Boys for me was how the jocks and the more obviously gay teens found enough common ground to try and be friends. The reality is that very often there is a division between the "normal" and the "stereotypical," the "straight-acting" and the "queens," which is all just internalized homophobia anyway. But when I recall coming out and going to campus meetings, I recall there being more of a crazy mix of people and for that hour, we all had enough in common to look past those differences.
Sanchez doesn't avoid controversial topics either, such as having one of the boys concerned they might have put themselves at risk for HIV.
The book is filled with richly-drawn characters who seem like real people, as messy as that can be sometimes. And when you're over this rainbow, there's two more books in this series to keep you going.