Siobhan D, Reviewer
Under the Rainbow is a novel about what happens when a town labelled 'the most homophobic in America' has a group of LGBTQ activists live there for two years to try and change the town's mind. The Kansas town of Big Burr is labelled the most homophobic by a non-profit organisation, who sends a group of workers to live there for two years to make a difference to the town. From the daughter of the task force leader to locals with various views and secrets, a lot of people's lives are going to be touched in some way or another. The book is told from a range of perspectives, with each character (mostly) getting a single chapter of focus before it moves on. This has clearly been done to get across a range of perspectives, as you might expect from the premise, but it does mean that you end up quite dissatisfied with the narratives you get about characters and where they end (often purposefully unresolved, and occasionally there will be a follow up line or reference later on to give more clues to what happened). Some people will find this structure a nice way to explore the town, and others will perhaps find it hard to engage with. From the premise, I expected something quite saccharine, starting off with a lot of conflict and hate but presumably turning into proof of people's acceptance. The structure means this isn't quite how it works, with homophobic characters never really coming back properly and the pace making it feel like the time flew past without much really happening to change the town. The ending is quite fairytale, and I did like how the character got that ending, but I felt that a lot of the queer characters in the book in general had to be left behind or forgotten in the structure, which was a shame. I would've liked more about their individual motivations for being there, and how they dealt with the day to day experiences (there is an interesting bit about expectations and how a character isn't listening to the town's residents properly, which would've been good to explore further). The thing that really hindered my enjoyment of the book, though, was just how much it depicts the pain of people who are meant to be in the town for work, without really protecting them. From the opening chapter with the house of the task force leader being egged, there's a lot of homophobia and violence presented or referred to, but due to the structure and just what is depicted, you don't really see anyone healing or dealing with this (not even when there's like a traumatic animal death) and the ending makes it seem like the queer people in the book, both who came to Big Burr and were already there, just were fine, even though at many points in the book they are not. I found it neither a light-hearted read, due to all the focus on homophobia (and transphobia, though the book focuses less on that), nor something that explores the impact of this kind of violence both physically and mentally. Under the Rainbow has an interesting premise and some good characters, but personally I wished it could focus more on fewer main characters to follow through with their narratives and show more of the complexity and aftermaths of what happens. I'd read more about a fair few of the characters individually, but it didn't quite come together for me, and also the character who is most like me had something horrible happen to their pet, which I wasn't expecting from the tone of the book and wasn't very fun personally. For me, I would've preferred if it had explored violence and trauma more and looked at the complexity in a small town where people don't actually all have the same perspective despite appearances, but instead I found it didn't quite live up to the feel-good assumption I made about it, whilst also apparently fixing things a bit too easily.