‘Under the Rainbow’

“Under the Rainbow”
by Celia Laskey
©2020, Riverhead Books
$27.00
288 pages

It’s worth a try.

You never know what’s going to happen when a new endeavor begins. You only know what it’ll cost: time, money, effort and a lot of patience for a great unknown. This experiment could end well, or it could end very badly but either way, as in the new novel “Under the Rainbow” by Celia Laskey, it’s worth a try.

It was a scientific fact: Big Burr, Kansas, was the most homophobic place in the U.S.

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That was the determination made by Acceptance Across America (AAA), an LGBTQ non-profit that needed to know before launching its grand experiment. For two years, AAA hoped to keep a task force in Big Burr to live, work, integrate and to see if it was possible to change bigots into open-minded, rational people.

Much to her dismay, that’s why Avery was taken from her very happy California home: one of her moms volunteered to head the Acceptance Across America experiment. Karen was a lesbian and a feminist; Avery was straight and she hoped that nobody in her new high school would ever think otherwise. It was bad enough that Billy Cunningham’s hate-fueled gang found out who her mother was.

Bible-quoting, mom-blogging Christine Petersen tried to have Acceptance Across America’s billboard removed from downtown, and when that didn’t happen, she took matters into her own hands. Pastor Jim preached against homosexuality; the police ignored hate crimes; and Arturo, having recently moved to Big Burr from New Mexico because of health issues, struggled to accept his son’s husband.

But things weren’t all bad in Big Burr: Linda, who recently lost her son in an accident, was delighted to find friends who didn’t treat her like broken china. Lizzie finally seized the happiness she’d been putting off. Elsie, who hadn’t seen her children in years, found Harley, who was a good substitute and a good friend. And Gabe Cunningham learned that the newcomers to Big Burr would open more than just a few minds…

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Here’s a bit of advice: just before you start reading “Under the Rainbow,” take a deep breath. It may be the last one you get until you’re finished.

That’s because author Celia Laskey will knock the wind out of you with the pearl-clutching folks in the fictitious town of Big Burr, the authenticity of their thoughts and actions and the real-life things they do to deny this (almost implausible) social experiment. Better yet, the haters are only half the story: Laskey’s tale is also told through a series of first-person points-of-view of some of the activists who serve as glue to hold everything together.

This all amounts to a bunch of concentric circles that are tangled like a cheap necklace in a small box: everybody’s tale is tied to half the town through barely-kept confidences, and they all know it — although, like any good novel, secrets ultimately become not-so-secret.

For lovers of novels with bite, just the first page is this book will snare you and keep you rapt. Absolutely, “Under the Rainbow” is worth a try.

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