For a book that I couldn’t put down for two days, I sure had a lot of complaints about Alex Sanchez’s RAINBOW BOYS.
I think Sanchez has a profoundly tin ear for dialogue, especially considering all the praise heaped on this book. Mixed in with recognizable teen slang — “poop” as an adjective or a cutesy interjection, for example — are a constant stream of lines that no teen — or person, really — would ever utter.
This is compounded by an odd lack of specificity in a number of key scenes. Like, on page two we hear about our first of three protagonists, Jason, having made the big step of calling a gay teen hotline… and “asking questions for hours.” Well, what did he ask?! I just met this character! I’m trying to get into his head, and Sanchez is making things entirely too vague for that to happen.
Related to that, I had the darndest time figuring out when the book was set. I wrote recently about books that are set at a very particular moment in the recent past; I gather that RAINBOW BOYS is set in the early-to-mid ‘90s, but only by piecing together some little details like the boys making each other cassette tapes (yet having some CDs), one boy having his own computer but this being an impressive fact (yet the boys instant message), and a passing mention of “protesters picketing Congress for AIDS funding.” (If only!) But most of the book was in the more timelessly generic world of most YA novels, so I still don’t know why Sanchez set his nearly two decades ago; the story would’ve worked as well with the kids trading mp3s. If there was some sort of 1990s Zeitgeist here, it went over my head.
I even had issues with parts of the plot — namely, an alcoholic father who was so cartoonishly villainous that I just didn’t buy it.
But it’s the plot that kept me turning the pages and ensured that I will be reading the first sequel when I get the chance. On top of a romance with exactly the kind of little escalations, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and elation that I devour like candy were tons of nice little touches… like unrequited love for a best friend, unprotected sex (a plotline handled extremely well), and the not-so-easy feat of three lead characters who were quite distinct, each of whom I believed in and cared about.
Jennifer Hubbard (who, coincidentally, is the person who recommended RAINBOW BOYS to me, in a blog comment) has written about how hard it is to pull off a novel jumping between time periods or narrators, because each piece has to be as interesting as the others; Sanchez manages that admirably.
This is, in short, the book for which our “Flawed does not preclude interesting” category was designed. Let’s hope that the writing improves with the sequels, and that the beautiful romance and pathos keep on coming.