Today is Male Monday at Reading In Color. I've chosen Every Time A Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia.
One of my earliest reads by Ms. Williams was this love story. Now, I don’t normally care to read romances. I don’t like stories about guys rescuing girls. I don't enjoy stories that have tidy, Hollywood endings. I do, however, appreciate stories with depth and complexity and you always get that with Ms Williams.
I like stories that respect the intelligence and emotional maturity of the reader. I like stories where the romance is an opportunity to examine who we are as individuals and how we try to navigate our emotions in a relationship. Every Time A Rainbow Dies is a different kind of love story. This is another YA example of the richness to be discovered in this evolving genre.
This is a story about a 16-year-old boy who has not been able to grieve the death of his mother nor reconcile his estrangement with his father who is somewhere in Jamaica, and he doesn’t know how to cope with his resentment towards his caregiver, his older brother. Thulani doesn’t care much about school. His only friends are his rock pigeons that he takes care of on the rooftop of his building.
Then he hears a scream. From the rooftop, Thulani sees a young girl being raped in an alley. He runs to her aid. The rapists take off and Thulani tries to help the girl who is shamed and angry. And she is angry. Ysa is not the helpless, grateful victim.
Thulani is unsuccessful in getting the girl to report the rape. Instead, he takes her home. Helps her clean up and sees her home safely. He becomes attracted to her but she wants nothing to do with him. He catches sight of her one day on the street and begins to look for her. When he finally catches up with her, Ysa rejects him. Yes, he was kind and brave, but he also witnessed her violation. Hardly a way to meet a guy you’d want to date.
Thulani pursues her. Eventually, Ysa gives him a chance. Ysa lives with an aunt. She misses a country and parents she only vaguely knows in childhood memories. She wants to be a clothes designer. She is ambitious and talented. She’s also lonely and like so young women who have been violated, she refuses to get counseling. She wrestles with the aftermath mostly alone. Slowly, she finds some comfort in Thulani.
Their relationship is tentative, awkward. Still, they find comfort in one another and the whole time, the reader is invested in the relationship. You desperately want them to heal. One of the things I enjoy about Ms. Williams work is the pacing. It’s always pitch perfect. She doesn’t rush or languish over scenes or details that feel more like manipulation than a natural progression of a plot. There are no pat, feel-good lines here. No magic spell or love saves these lovers. And there is sex, (one brief scene) descriptive enough to illustrate a kind of intimacy and sensitivity young people can have. The encounter comes off authentic though by no means an endorsement of sexual activity. And yes, I believe there should be sex in YA because it is a part of some teens’ lives. I think we need mature, realistic images of what sex means to young people.
I love the layering here, the realistic ending. I love that Ms. Williams allows Thulani and Ysa to tell their story. We see damaged characters begin to heal and make informed decisions about how to move forward in their lives. Lastly, in Thulani we get a rare glance of a black male teen fully developed, capable of growth and who has the capacity to care for others. This is no small thing. We need more works with positive male teens of color.