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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1821

Author: Alex Sanchez (b. 1957)

First published: 2001–5

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age

Time of plot: Early twenty-first century

Locales: Virginia; California

Principal characters

Jason Carillo, a student athlete who begins to recognize that he is attracted to men as well as women

Kyle Meeks ,...

(The entire section contains 1821 words.)

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Author: Alex Sanchez (b. 1957)

First published: 2001–5

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age

Time of plot: Early twenty-first century

Locales: Virginia; California

Principal characters

Jason Carillo, a student athlete who begins to recognize that he is attracted to men as well as women

Kyle Meeks, a quiet, gay teenager who, as of the start of the series, has not yet come out of the closet

Nelson Glassman, an openly gay teen who faces bullying at school

The Story

Published by Alex Sánchez between 2001 and 2005, the Rainbow Boys series, also known as the Rainbow Boys trilogy, follows three teenagers—Jason Carillo, Kyle Meeks, and Nelson Glassman—as they deal with issues related to their sexual orientations, as well as other social and interpersonal challenges. At the start of Rainbow Boys, Jason, a student and varsity basketball player at suburban Virginia's Walt Whitman High School, is beginning to suspect that he may be gay or bisexual. Although he has a longtime girlfriend named Debra, with whom he is sexually active, he has been having sexual dreams about men that have prompted him to question his orientation. Although frightened of what this revelation might mean, he works up the courage to attend a meeting of a support group for teens, Rainbow Youth, early in his senior year. Upon his arrival at his first meeting, he is dismayed to recognize Nelson, the only openly gay boy at his school, and is surprised to see Nelson's friend Kyle, whom he did not know was gay. With each of the three teens now aware of each other's orientations, the trio begins to form close connections. Their friendships, like many interpersonal relationships in high school, are complicated by romantic feelings—Nelson is in love with Kyle, while Kyle is attracted to Jason—that become the source of some of the novel's conflicts.Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Over the course of Rainbow Boys, Jason and Kyle become friends after Kyle offers to tutor Jason in math. Jason breaks up with his girlfriend, and he and Kyle eventually begin a romantic relationship. Initially, the couple works to keep their relationship secret. Meanwhile, Nelson becomes increasingly upset about the relationship Jason and Kyle have and seeks out a relationship of his own, which at first proves potentially disastrous. After meeting an older man named Brick online and having unprotected sex with him, Nelson fears that he may have contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). He later begins dating a young man named Jeremy, who is HIV-positive. In addition to these relationship difficulties, the three teens face homophobic aggression and teasing. The school bully Jack Ransom is among the worst perpetrators and engages Jason in a physical fight. Circumstances force Kyle to come out to his family, and while they are initially upset by the news, they come to support him. Jason's coming-out experience is far less positive: His father disowns him and moves out of the family home once he learns the truth. Personal challenges aside, the three teens succeed in establishing a gay-straight alliance at their school despite the objections of some in the community, and they end the book with more personal support than they had previously.

The second book in the series, Rainbow High, opens in January of the boys' senior year, beginning shortly after the events of the first novel. Rainbow High presents various new and old challenges the trio must face as they grow into themselves and finish their last year of high school. At the start of the book, Jason is still in the closet to everyone except for his family and close friends. He considers coming out to his basketball coach and teammates, as they are also a significant part of his life, but the idea scares him. He worries how the boys who use homophobic language in the locker room will react, and Jason also worries that his basketball scholarship to the college Tech will be revoked if the college finds out about his orientation. He decides to come out to his coach anyway, and his coach is largely accepting of Jason, as is the team. He later comes out very publicly and, just as he had feared, Tech revokes his scholarship, although ostensibly not due to his coming out.

Meanwhile, Kyle and Nelson face challenges of their own. Unlike Jason, who is largely accepted by the basketball team, Kyle has to deal with the homophobia of his teammates on the swim team. They refuse to shower at the same time as Kyle or to share a hotel room with him during overnight trips. Although hesitant at first, Kyle's parents come to support their son and advocate for him. Kyle also grapples with the dilemma of choosing which college to attend. Although the prestigious Princeton University has accepted him, he strongly considers attending Tech so he and Jason can go to college together. He decides to enroll in Princeton, which better suits his academic potential. Nelson, meanwhile, learns that he did not contract HIV from his unprotected sexual encounter earlier in the school year. This revelation strains his relationship with his HIV-positive boyfriend, Jeremy, who fears transmitting the virus to Nelson. Although they break up, Nelson and Jeremy nevertheless attend prom together at the novel's conclusion, as do Jason and Kyle.

Rainbow Road, the third and final book in the Rainbow Boys series, moves beyond high school and takes place during the summer before Jason and Kyle start college. Nelson, who wants to take time to determine what he wants to do with his life, has decided not to enroll in college yet. Several weeks before the end of the summer, Jason is invited to give a speech at the opening ceremony for a newly established high school for gay and lesbian youth in Los Angeles, California. While Jason is very excited for the opportunity, it means that he and Kyle will have to cancel their planned camping trip, which disappoints Kyle. Seeing an opportunity for an adventure, Nelson convinces his friends that the three of them should travel to California by car, camping and exploring the United States along the way. Over the course of their journey, the teenagers run out of gas, lose important personal items, develop food poisoning, and get on each other's nerves. At the same time, the journey enables them to meet numerous gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, emphasizing that they are far from alone. In Los Angeles, Jason improvises a moving speech about personal acceptance, demonstrating his growth over the course of the series. After their time in Los Angeles is over, Jason and Kyle travel back home together, while Nelson remains in California with a new boyfriend he met there.

Critical Evaluation

Like coming-of-age novels set in the United States at the time of this series' publication, the books in the Rainbow Boys series are deeply rooted in realism and reflect contemporary interests, concerns, and cultural issues. Indeed, some of the details that orient the novels in the early 2000s render them somewhat dated: The teenage protagonists' use of technology such as the Internet and cellular phones, for instance, strongly reflects the technological atmosphere of 2001 through 2005. Perhaps the most striking form of realism in the series, however, is the honest and unflinching depiction of many of the challenges faced by teens, particularly gay teens. The issue of coming out—or revealing one's sexual orientation to friends, family, and the world at large—is a key aspect of the narrative arcs of Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High. While Nelson is already openly gay at the start of the series, Kyle's orientation is known only to a select few, and Jason has only recently begun to suspect that he is not heterosexual himself. By depicting two different teens' coming-out experiences, Sanchez emphasizes how this experience may vary from person to person and one cannot automatically make assumptions about how the people one tells may respond. While Kyle's parents are taken by surprise when they learn about their son's sexual orientation, for example, they respond far better than Jason's father, who disowns his son and leaves home. Similarly, while Jason feared coming out to his basketball coach, the coach is accepting. Kyle's swim coach, on the other hand, proves to be intolerant. In addition to the challenge of coming out, Sanchez tackles difficult issues, such as bullying, external and internalized homophobia, and fears of contracting HIV, and presents these issues in a largely realistic and minimally sensationalized manner.

Presenting three protagonists with different personalities, backgrounds, and life experiences enables Sanchez to demonstrate that there is no one way to be gay. While Jason, Kyle, and Nelson are all attracted to men, they are also very different people. Sanchez further hints at the diversity of the LGBT community through Jason, who remains attracted to women throughout the series and, though resistant to the label, could be described as bisexual rather than gay. While critics generally valued the Rainbow Boys series' exploration of gay identity among teenagers, some have argued that the trio of protagonists nevertheless represents a fairly narrow view of sexuality. Sanchez seems to address this point further in Rainbow Road, which features greater diversity of sexual orientation and gender presentation, and he explores the wider spectrum of identity further in works published following the conclusion of the Rainbow Boys series.

In many ways, the Rainbow Boys series serves as a teaching tool, educating readers about some of the realities facing gay teens and providing examples of overcoming adversity and accepting one's authentic self. Sanchez has frequently explained in interviews that in writing the series, he hoped to create books that would have helped him accept his own identity during his teen years. As a teenager, Sanchez struggled with being gay and sought to conceal his orientation from his family and friends. In light of their educational nature, the novels—particularly Rainbow Boys—have been included in school reading lists throughout the United States since their publication, and public libraries have likewise recommended them to readers hoping to learn more about themselves or those around them. In part due to their widespread educational use, the Rainbow Boys books have drawn significant attention from some parents' groups and conservative advocacy organizations, which led challenges and attempts to ban the novels in schools and libraries nationwide. Despite such groups' opposition to the series' content, the Rainbow Boys trilogy remains widely popular among educators and students alike.

Further Information

  • Crisp, Thomas. "The Trouble with Rainbow Boys." Over the Rainbow: Queer Children's and Young Adult Literature, edited by Michelle Ann Abate and Kenneth Kidd. U of Michigan P, 2011, pp. 215–256.
  • "Rainbow Boys." Review of Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez. Publishers Weekly, 26 Nov. 2001, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-689-84100-2. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.
  • Sanchez, Alex. "An Interview with Alex Sánchez, Author of Rainbow Boys." Interview by Toby Emert. ALAN Review, vol. 30, no. 1, 2002, pp. 12–14.
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