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Sanchez Q&A

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Alanna wrote this article. She was an intern with YouthResource in the summer of 2004.
Most of us know what it feels like to have a secret. High school is hard enough, but when you feel like you have to hide a significant aspect of yourself from your classmates, it can be nearly impossible. Alex Sanchez, an author based in Virginia, tackled the many trials and tribulations of being a gay teenager in his first novel, Rainbow Boys. The main characters of the book, Nelson, Kyle, and Jason, are all in different stages of coming out to their family and friends, and accepting themselves.

Clearly, their experiences struck a chord with many young readers, and critics as well. Rainbow Boys is a Best Book for Young Adults" by the American Library Association; a "Blue Ribbon Winner" by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; a 2002 "Book for the Teen Age" by the New York Public Library; a 2003 "Young Adults' Choice" by the International Reading Association; a Book-of-the-Month Club selection; and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.

In the fall of 2003, Sanchez released Rainbow High, a sequel to Rainbow Boys, and the series has proven to be addictive for a diverse crowd of readers. Sanchez has also written a book about gay youth in middle school, entitled So Hard To Say that just hit the bookshelves. Rainbow Road, the third novel in the Rainbow Boys trilogy, is due for release in the fall of 2005.

Alex Sanchez was born in Mexico to parents of German and Cuban heritage. He has counseled youth and their families in the United States and internationally, and visits high schools and colleges to lecture about tolerance. In its review of Rainbow Boys, Publisher's Weekly said, "there's enough conflict, humor and tenderness to make this story believable--and touching."

Q: I was wondering how your heritage impacted your feelings about homosexuality and coming out. Our website discusses the challenges for Latino youth- many of them come from traditional and religious families where machismo is a factor, which can make it more difficult to accept that they are GLBTQ. Was this true for you?
A: So many different variables influence our attitudes toward being gay and coming out: family attitudes, religion, culture, gender, age, class, and education. In my case, all those things pulled me in different directions. Some days I loved that I was gay, other days I hated being different.

Although my family was Latino, they were neither traditional nor religious. But my dad was definitely machista, and my mom instilled a strong sense of family. For many years I felt I was letting my family down by being gay. I think that's true for many LGBT people, both Latino and others.

Q: In Rainbow Boys, Nelson, Jason and Kyle all face various types of harassment about their sexuality. What were your high school experiences like?
A: When I was in high school, there was no such thing as being "out." I do remember one boy, who was labeled "queer" and consequently got beat up every day. I watched and stood silent, afraid that if I said anything, I might be found out too.

So instead, I withdrew, depressed. Alone in my room after school, I would tell myself, "I'm not going to let myself be gay. I refuse to let this happen." The way I coped was by becoming "the best little boy in the world," a classic overachiever, being the best at everything, in order to mask the shame I felt. I hated high school, and raced through it, finishing a year and a half early. That's probably what led me to revisit the setting in my novels.

Q: Is there a particular character from Rainbow Boys with whom you most identify?
A: All of them. Some aspect of each character mirrors my own self. Jason's struggle with self-acceptance, Kyle wanting to find someone to love, and Nelson seeking love: these are all aspects of myself-and I think they're universal aspects of everyone. When I write, I try to breathe life into a character by giving him or her something of myself, to make the character "real" to me and hopefully to others.

Q: What inspired you to begin writing books for teenagers?
A: My muse is a very vocal inner teenager who inspires me to write books that would've helped me when I was a teen. Books that would've told me: "It's okay to be who you are."

Q: Did you expect "Rainbow Boys" and "Rainbow High" to become such agents of social change?
A: Nope. In school I was taught to read and write in terms of commas and metaphors. No one taught me to think of writing and books as agents of social change, able to inspire, empower, and change lives. That my books can do this ceaselessly amazes me. I've discovered a function for my writing I never imagined.

Q: How do you feel about the reactions to your writing?
A: I've come to accept myself as a writer who not only tells stories, but who does so in a way that helps create change in the world by promoting social justice. My mom taught me that each of us should help make the world better. I'm trying to do my part.

Q: Who are some of your influences when it comes to writing?
A: One singular book from childhood that continues to inspire me years later is The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson. It's about a Spanish bull that prefers smelling flowers to fighting in a ring. That simple story continues to communicate its timeless message not just to me but to new generations of children, telling them it's okay to be different, to be who you are, to be an individual.

Q: What can we expect from your new book, "So Hard to Say"?
A: As I traveled around the country speaking at schools, teachers and librarians expressed the need for books aimed at middle-schoolers that would address gay-straight themes. It makes sense, since middle school is when young people burst into puberty. In response, I wrote So Hard to Say. For the story line, think in terms of Will & Grace in middle school. That book comes out fall 2004.

Q: The third book in the "Rainbow Boys" trilogy, "Rainbow Road," comes out in 2005, and it's about the summer after Nelson, Jason, and Kyle's senior year. Any hints on what it's about?
A: The three boys jump in a car and go on a cross-country road trip. Woo-hoo! As you can imagine, it's a pretty fun book.

Q: Any chance we'll see a "Rainbow University?"
A: I'm not sure yet. Although I love writing about Jason, Kyle, and Nelson, there are so many other stories I want to write.

Q: And finally, what kind of advice would you offer to youth who are in similar situations to your "Rainbow Boys" characters?
A: Have courage, be true to who you are, reach out to others, and follow your dreams!

For more information about Alex Sanchez and his books, visit his website at

More novels for GLBTQ youth:

Geography Club , by Brett Hartinger - Russell and Kevin, gay 10th graders at Goodkind High School, form a "Geography Club" with three other gay students. But what happens when the other kids at school find out what the club is really about?

The Year of Ice, by Brian Malloy - Kevin Doyle is a high school student in 1978 Minneapolis, dealing with his mother's death and a crush on a male classmate.

Girl Walking Backwards, by Bett Williams - Skye is 16 and an out lesbian, growing up in Southern California. She's a cynic who joins her school's volleyball team to meet girls, and has been compared to Catcher in the Rye's famous disaffected teen, Holden Caulfield.

Empress of the World, by Sara Ryan - Nicola falls for Southern belle Battle at a summer camp for gifted teens and finds herself wondering if she's a lesbian.

Blue Lawn , William Taylor - Rugby star David tries to make sense of his feelings for Theo in this novel set in New Zealand.

photo by Kevin Kerdash, courtesy of Alex Sanchez.

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