cover image Under the Rainbow

Under the Rainbow

Celia Laskey. Riverhead, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-525-53616-1

Laskey’s pointed if didactic debut explores what happens when a small Kansas town is disrupted by outsiders. Fifteen-year-old Avery moves to Big Burr, Kans., after LBGTQ nonprofit Acceptance Across America called it the “Most Homophobic Town” in the U.S. and recruited one of her lesbian moms to lead a team of volunteers to spread tolerance. The narrative is strung together by short segments from the points of view of long-term residents and newcomers such as Avery, who fears that her mothers will be disappointed by her heterosexuality, while classmates egg her locker at school when they discover she has gay parents. Avery bonds with her sensitive classmate Zach, who stands out for not spewing hateful epithets at the volunteers sent by the nonprofit. Laskey turns the lens unsympathetically on the secretly gay Big Burr resident Gabe, who uses hunting trips as an excuse to check Grindr, and an uptight, straight housewife named Christine, who condemns a billboard showing two women holding hands. While some of the characterizations are subtle, Laskey too often relies on stereotypes of unenlightened hicks, and what begins as a nuanced novel segues into a predictable morality tale, with the outsiders imparting life lessons to those willing to listen, leaving the others mired in despair. Kansas deserves better than this. Agent: Alexa Stark, Trident Media Group. (Mar.)