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Under the Rainbow


Under the Rainbow

Big Burr, Kansas, has been identified as the most homophobic town in America. Sent by a nonprofit called Acceptance Across America, a queer task force moves to Big Burr in an effort to change perspectives. Like a pond in which a boulder has been thrown, this assimilation causes ripples and splashes.

The integration of the task force within the community creates tension, conflicts and sometimes outright violence. As readers follow the town’s development over the task force’s two-year assignment, they discover the effect of the task force on Big Burr and vice versa. Each chapter is narrated by a different character in Big Burr or part of the task force. Each person is facing his or her own troubles, though it may not be directly related to the introduction of the task force. Starting with teenage Avery, the novel bounces from parents to teens to the elderly.

Each chapter is an intimate look into the human soul. We see fragments of their life, pieced together by their current problem and the things we have heard about them from other characters. Some are trying to cope with their sexuality, while others struggle with infidelity. Reading this book is like looking through a kaleidoscope, with each fragment contributing to a beautiful masterpiece.

"I was hooked from the very first page.... UNDER THE RAINBOW is an accessible book to everyone, even if they do not identify as queer. Laskey has a true grasp on the human condition..."

I really appreciated the structure of UNDER THE RAINBOW. It is unique, but perfect for the novel’s setting. Much like a small town, the chapters are all intertwined and in each other’s business. Author Celia Laskey magically weaves so many of life’s problems into the story, such as high school drama, the tragedy of getting old, the suffocating effect of small towns and “hetero shame.” She also shows characters facing quotidien problems, like bothersome in-laws and missing pets. While bouncing from townsperson to task force member can be confusing, Laskey does a good job of gently reminding readers of the relationships among the characters. Even though each chapter follows different story arcs, the full picture of Big Burr would be incomplete without each and every account that Laskey gives us.

I was hooked from the very first page. Avery, the daughter of the task force head, pines over a guy while feeling guilty about her heterosexuality in her family of homosexuals. Her shame over being straight is a unique and refreshing circumstance. These new but thought-provoking situations continue throughout the book as time forces Big Burrians to interact with the task force.

One concern about UNDER THE RAINBOW is the potential for a classic happily-ever-after ending: everyone learns the error of their ways and becomes welcoming of the LGBTQ population. However, it does not conclude with hand-holding around a campfire and singing “Kumbaya.” LGBTQ acceptance in America is still not a given, and Laskey is making a statement on the current state of our society. The struggle for acceptance is not trivialized here; instead, the novel grapples with the challenges that come with this journey. The story is quite down-to-earth and realistic. Every reader can relate to at least one character.

UNDER THE RAINBOW is an accessible book to everyone, even if they do not identify as queer. Laskey has a true grasp on the human condition, and I am excited to read what she has in store for us in the future.

Reviewed by Alison Lee on March 13, 2020

Under the Rainbow
by Celia Laskey

  • Publication Date: March 3, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0525536167
  • ISBN-13: 9780525536161