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Under the Rainbow When a group of social activists arrive in a small town the lives and beliefs of residents and outsiders alike are upended in this wry embracing novelBig Burr Kansas is the kind of place where everyone seems to know everyone and everyone shares the same values or keeps their opinions to themselves But when a national nonprofit labels Big Burr the most homophobic town in the US and sends in a task force of ueer volunteers as an experiment they'll live and work in the community for two years in an attempt to broaden hearts and minds no one is truly prepared for what will ensueFurious at being uprooted from her life in Los Angeles and desperate to fit in at her new high school Avery fears that it's only a matter of time before her gay crusader mom outs her Still grieving the death of her son Linda welcomes the arrivals who know mercifully little about her past And for Christine the newcomers are not only a threat to the comforting rhythms of Big Burr life but a call to action As tensions roil the town cratering relationships and forcing closely guarded secrets into the light everyone must consider what it really means to belong Told with warmth and wit Under the Rainbow is a poignant hopeful articulation of our complicated humanity that reminds us we are alike than we'd like to admit I had mixed feelings about this book On the one hand it was as they say compulsively readable and I finished the audiobook is just under two days But then when I got to the end I couldn’t help but be troubled by both the structuring and wondering whether the driving force of the book the existence of this committee that convened to educate people in the “most homophobic city in America” over a two year period really accomplished anything at all First the structure is set up so we hear from about a dozen characters both from the committee members and citizens of the town and each character only gets to speak once There’s occasionally an update or small glimpse into what’s going on with the early characters later on the book but it had a muffling effect where anyone you get invested in you missed but knew you wouldn’t hear from them again It’s a structure I haven’t seen as often before but it did make me appreciate the rotation of a handful of narrators say 3 or 4 throughout a book where they continually pop up again and again It allows for a rounded out feel The author did however include a repeat in the epilogue through the eyes of a character named Gabe 10 years after the main events of the book I thought this was smart as we did get to see what became of a lot of the characters after all I thought the idea for a committee to serve this kind of purpose was uniue but the two year time period threw me off since it made it seem like not much was happening from day to day They held mixers and town halls and other various events but the friction and debate of having two groups of people with such conflicting beliefs wasn’t on the main stage enough Such interactions were infreuent and fleeting Which I suppose could be considered realistic in a way because how often does anyone really change anyone else’s mind? One plot line that bugged me was when Avery and I think his name is Zach? decide to leave Kansas forever and they choose to walk 60 miles along a woody road to the next town for some reason? It’s around modern day so they surely could have called for an Uber or a cab or found someone from the school to drive them with discretion They did have to be on a road for something traumatic to happen to Avery but it all felt a little gratuitous to me Overall while I found this book entertaining enough the makeup of things left room for improvement I felt similarly about this as I did about Red White and Royal Blue which for most people would be a compliment but for me sadly it is not I was not expecting for this to be a YA book but given the tone and the coming of age nature I think it's best to describe it that way This book seems interested in posturing than actually telling a compelling story complete with a definition of hetero shaming on the first page As a gay man who was bullied for being myself in high school even I did not see myself represented in these characters or their stories I was hoping to read a story about what it would actually be like to be a ueer person living in the most homophobic town in America what I got is some fantasy wish fulfillment world where homophobic tendencies aren't embedded into the fabric of existence and can easily be unwoven with a gentle pull When Big Burr Kansas is named the most homophobic place in America a group of activists moves in to try to make a difference The novel starts from the perspective of one of their children and moves from there to others in the town and in the group Laskey captures the pressures of small town life and the destructive nature of homophobia but also the beauty of embracing your true self or learning to accept your neighbor My only slight uibble was as a reader connecting with a narrator and then losing the internal perspective of their story I still feel concerned for Avery and Zach and want to know what happened with that billboard lady There is also a touch of wishful thinking but wouldn't you? I received a copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley and Edelweiss whoops and it came out March 3 2020 In this novel a non profit program named Acceptance Across America AAA goes to the supposed most homophobic town with a task force that provides undercover dedicated time to fight homophobia and issues within the community I did this as an audio book and the numerous narrators were incredible and perfectly fit each character The novel has a large number of main characters with chapters dedicated to their POV I liked the amount of time given to each character chapter wise I think it helps you build a better connection or in some cases builds a case for why their mind may work the way it does or their feelings towards certain things Or in some cases just clearly emphasizes ignorance Initially I wasn’t sure if so many points of view would make me feel detached from the story and less directly connected to a specific character or characters But it actually gave a great sense of a community which I know was the intent The book did a perfect job creating and representing the stereotypical types of people some unfortunately for emphasis of how ridiculous it is at times There was humor with mockery and cliche topics Such as “Too pretty to be lesbians” “at least it’s not two men” types of statements While there were bits of humor and some of this came off light hearted there are underlying issues that are very serious and directly confronted There were very subtle tie ins of the characters that you could almost miss if not paying attention and emphasis on pronouns that provided a nice extra touch I think books like this are another great way to open up dialogue about communities and minorities that need our collective support While we have made great advances over the years we still have a lot of room to grow I enjoyed how overall this book was not too heavy and didn’t leave me feeling gutted but still left room for even a very open accepting person to continue to think about things and where we can continue to grow

  • Hardcover
  • 288 pages
  • Under the Rainbow
  • Celia Laskey
  • 17 October 2016

About the Author: Celia Laskey

Celia Laskey’s debut novel Under the Rainbow is out now with Riverhead Books Her other work has appeared in Guernica The Minnesota Review Day One and elsewhere She was also a finalist in Glimmer Train‘s Short Story Award for New Writers She has an MFA from the University of New Mexico and currently lives in Los Angeles with her wife and their dog Whiskey


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