Big Trouble in Big Burr, Kansas – A Review of Under the Rainbow

Under the Rainbow

By Celia Laskey

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Fiction

QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes

QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes

POC Main Character: Yes

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: Big Burr, Kansas is a small, close-knit community of mostly middle-class white people. The meat industry sustains them; they go to church together, to the same salon. They might tell you they all share the same values. But when a LGBTQUIA activist organization declares Big Burr the most homophobic city in the US and sends a group of queer activists to help the city become more accepting, the small town people begin to realize they are more different from each other than they’ve ever known. Or maybe they are more alike than ever.

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

Narrative structure is hard, folks. Knowing how to correctly pace and structure a novel is what separates the people who think they could write a book and people who manage it. Stories have to hit certain plot beats, have to have a cohesive theme and story. Non-traditional novels are a lot like modern art; to be done well the artist must know classical ways of doing this before breaking those ways and forming their own path.

Laskey’s Under the Rainbow is not a traditionally written novel. Instead of following one or two or three lead characters, it zooms in on a new character almost every chapter. It embraces what the novel is about: community. 

By sliding into different points of view, we are able to get a broader idea of the town of Big Burr than we would be just staying with one or two protagonists. Each chapter is a story unto itself while also leading the narrative as a whole. It still hits all of the “traditional” narrative points, still contains a first, second, and third act. We do not abandon any of the characters simply because their POV chapter is over, because this is a small town and people are bound to know each other.

Under the Rainbow works because of these shifting narratives. The book asks us to think about other people complexly, to remember that a community is a living, breathing thing that requires care and love. We are different, but these differences become smaller the closer we look. Some of us are stronger than we appear, others much weaker. We may see others as having their lives together but really are struggling. 

The novel asks us to consider that other people’s feelings are just as important as ours. But it also tells us that understanding other people’s emotions does not mean that we have to approve or accept hate from those same people. The hateful white mother who petitions to remove a billboard depicting a lesbian couple may be struggling with her marriage and role as a mother, and we can empathize with that, but we do not have to forgive her for actions she performs out of hate. A teenage girl struggling to find her place in her own family and town might make us furious with her bad choices, but we can understand what would drive someone to make those choices when they are lost and afraid.

Laskey’s novel has so much heart. It asks big things from us, including to love ourselves the way we want love from others. It hits particularly close to home as someone from Kansas who grew up seeing anti-queer protestors. It speaks not just to queer people and their allies but also those who maybe would not consider themselves allies. It is the kind of novel that both comforts and confronts, that loves and chastises out of love. 

In times like these, this novel is a perfect reminder to love one another and ourselves. Take care of each other, Under the Rainbow says, because it’s all we can really do.

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Under the Rainbow? Leave a comment telling which POV was your favorite. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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