Rainbow Boys

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Rainbow Boys Book Poster Image
Breakthrough book about coming out -- and falling in love.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Rainbow Boys provides an opening for conversations about a variety of topics, from accepting others' differences to safe Internet behavior. See our "Familes Can Talk About" section for more ideas.

Positive Messages

The message here is about self-acceptance and being a supportive friend. There's sex in Rainbow Boys, but the ultimate message is that it's better to wait until you're in a loving relationship.

Positive Role Models & Representations

This protagonists in Rainbow Boys are learning to accept themselves, be open about who they are, and support one another. They don't always act perfectly: Jason is mean to Kyle when he approaches him in the cafeteria, and Nelson struggles with an eating disorder and the fear that he's HIV positive after having unprotected sex with a stranger.

Violence

Jason has an abusive father who beat him when he was a child after finding him with another boy; when Jason comes out to him, he again takes a punch, and Jason fights back. The protagonists have several run-ins with a pair of anti-gay bullies and eventually have a fight with them after being attacked.

Sex

Pretty graphic depictions of sex, including oral sex and unprotected sex between a teen and an older man. The boys also look at pornographic magazines and discuss masturbation. Characters talk about the importance of safe sex, and one character is HIV positive.

Language

A lot of profanity, such as "f--k" and "a--hole," plus lots of anti-gay hate words.

Consumerism

A few references to things like M&Ms and Burger King.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Nelson smokes constantly and drinks a few times, too. Jason's dad is an alcoholic, though his drinking is definitely portrayed as a bad thing.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rainbow Boys is about three teen boys at various stages of coming out about their homosexuality. There's graphic language -- including anti-gay hate words -- as well as fairly descriptive sex scenes. One character worries that he might have HIV after having unsafe sex with a man he met online. The protagonists also have several run-ins with a pair of anti-gay bullies and eventually have a fight with them after being attacked. There's also smoking, domestic abuse, a character with an eating disorder, and more. But this book does provide information and resources for teens, and families could find it useful for starting conversations about sexuality, online chatting, banned books, and more. Rainbow Boys was on the American Library Association's list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of 2000-2009.

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What's the story?

RAINBOW BOYS is told through the voices of three gay boys, each at a different stage of coming out: Flamboyant Nelson is often the target of school harassment but is out and proud about his sexuality; shy Kyle knows that he's gay but hasn't told his parents and worries about how they'd react; and confused jock Jason has a longtime girlfriend but admits, \"I just have these feelings. I wish I didn't, but I do.\" When Jason attends a meeting for the Rainbow Youth group that Nelson and Kyle belong to, their stories become entangled. They lean on one another as each struggles to better understand himself, fight for acceptance, and fall in love.

Is it any good?

The writing can be stilted at times, and there are outdated references that might perplex today's teens, but a quick, engaging read that's as full of romance and drama as it is a resource for teens. (The author, who has a master's degree in guidance counseling, includes a detailed list of resources at the book's end). 

When Rainbow Boys was released in 2001, there weren't as many young adult books dealing with teen sexuality as there are now -- especially books in which gay characters find love, sex, and happy endings. So it's not really a surprise that author Alex Sanchez filled his first novel with nearly every gay-related topic you can think of: Nelson and Kyle try to start a gay-straight alliance at school; Nelson thinks he might have HIV after unprotected sex with a stranger; Jason gets into a physical fight with his alcoholic dad when he comes out to him. And that's just the start. There are also school bullies, an angry girlfriend, first love, and more.

Readers interested in finding out what happens next may want to read the sequels, Rainbow High and Rainbow Road.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Rainbow Boys' controversial material, which includes teens coming out as gay in high school and sex between men. How realistic do you think this is? Are the characters relatable?

  • Why do you think Rainbow Boys was on the American Library Association's list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of 2000-2009? Who do you think should have a say in what you can and can't read?

  • Rainbow Boys features one character meeting up -- and having unsafe sex -- with a man he meets online. Parents may want to use this opportunity to review the rules of the road for instant messaging and other online activities (such as only chatting with people you actually know in real life).

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