Rainbow Boys and other novels
about love and friendship - for teens and adults
Alex Sanchez


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Rainbow Boys Reading Group Guide

About the Book

Three high school seniors -- Jason, an athlete who thinks he might be gay; Kyle, who's in the closet to his family and classmates; and Nelson, out and proud -- struggle with the issues of friendship, homophobia, and sexual identity in this important debut novel by author Alex Sanchez.

Discussion Topics

  • On his way to the Rainbow Youth meeting, Jason refers to Nelson as the "school fag." Why? According to Jason, what defines Nelson as homosexual? At the meeting he discovers "a pretty diverse-looking group." What does "gay" look like to Jason? How does Jason stereotype gays and lesbians? How do these stereotypes impact how Jason feels about himself? How does hiding one's identity affect self-esteem?

  • "Coming out means you're no longer ashamed to tell people," Shea explains. "It's a question of liking yourself and feeling good about being gay." For many reasons, however, people choose not to come out. Why do Jason and Kyle choose -- to different degrees -- to remain "in the closet" about their sexuality? What helps them gain the confidence to come out to their friends and family?

  • Compare and contrast the boys' family life. What is their relationship like with their parents? What opinion do their parents have on homosexuality? How do Jason's and Kyle's parents respond when they learn their sons are gay?

  • What is homophobia? How does homophobia manifest itself in the boys' school? How do teachers and administrators address the verbal harassment and physical assaults to which Kyle and Nelson are subjected?

  • Nelson and Kyle want to start a Gay-Straight Alliance, or GSA, at their school. What is the purpose of a GSA? In what ways do Nelson and Kyle believe a GSA would benefit students? What is Principal Mueller's opinion? Do you agree or disagree with Principal Mueller? Why?

  • Community is a recurrent theme in Rainbow Boys. For example, the Rainbow Youth Group, Al-Anon, PFLAG, and what Shea describes as the "incredible lesbian community" of Smith College, all play a role. What are the benefits of community? Why would a person seek community support? Conversely, how does the absence of community affect self-esteem and personal development?

  • Nelson puts himself in danger when he agrees to meet an on-line friend in person. Why does Nelson seek relationships on-line? What are the dangers of Internet relationships? Why do you think he agrees to meet in person?

  • Nelson knows how to protect himself from HIV and STDs, but he does not use a condom when he is with Brick. Why? How could he have handled the situation differently? How does Nelson's relationship with Jeremy challenge his thinking about safer sex and relationships?

  • What evidence in the story tells you Nelson is depressed? What factors have contributed to his depression? What is the connection between Nelson's depression and the homophobic attitudes he encounters at school?

  • How have Jason, Kyle, and Nelson each changed by the end of the story?

Projects and Research

  • Write "before and after" journal entries from the perspective of Jason, Kyle, or Nelson. For example, writing from Jason's point of view, think about his feelings before and after attending the Rainbow Youth meeting. How does he feel about the meeting? What questions does he have? What are his fears? For Kyle, consider journal entries before and after tutoring Jason for the first time. Imagine what Nelson might be experiencing before and after attending the school board meeting.

  • Create posters or public service announcements in your school and local newspaper advertising organizations, hot lines, and support groups available to gay teens and their parents. Use the resources in the back of the book to guide your information gathering.

  • Research hate crime legislation on the local, state, and national level. How have gay men and lesbians been affected by discrimination and homophobia? How has law enforcement responded to hate crimes? What is the reaction of the community? On the Internet, visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org and the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) at www.avp.org for more information and helpful hints.

  • Principal Mueller fears a Gay-Straight Alliance will detract from students' learning; Nelson and his mother feel it will promote tolerance and acceptance toward gay students, allowing them to go to school without fear of discrimination and prejudice. Debate the pros and cons of a Gay-Straight Alliance. If your school has a GSA, interview members and adult facilitators. If not, find out what schools, if any, in your area do have a GSA. What effect has the GSA had on school culture? Visit the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network at www.glsen.org to find out more.

  • How are gays and lesbians treated in your school? For example, how do teachers and administrators respond to homophobic remarks and antigay sentiment? How do students treat gay classmates? Are there policies in place that protect students and teachers against discrimination based on sexual orientation? Educate yourself about policies affecting gay students; write a letter to the principal and the school board requesting they adopt an antibias policy to protect gay youth; organize a committee to address these issues in your school.

  • Research the potential dangers of meeting strangers on the Internet. How can teenagers protect themselves from people who may wish to do them harm? Review your school's Internet usage policy. What safeguards does it employ to protect students?

  • Research teen suicide. What factors contribute to teen suicide? What are the warning signs? How does the suicide rate for gay teens compare with those who identify as heterosexual? Visit www.thetrevorproject.org for information on suicide prevention and support groups for gay and questioning youth.

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