The Stone Rainbow, by Liane Shaw, tells the story of Jack Pedersen, a gay teenager who is living a small town. A few people know he is gay, but otherwise Jack is committed to keeping this part of his identity a secret until he can move to the bigger city. However, his life changes when Benjamin, an openly gay teen, arrives in his school. Jack quickly falls for Benjamin, but an attack against his friend pushes Jack to stand up and challenge homophobia in his community.
The Stone Rainbow is at its core a story of empowerment, although perhaps one that requires a trigger warning. [Spoiler Alert going forward] Prior to the start of the story, Jack attempted suicide, but is saved from drowning by his friend Ryan. Flashbacks retell this event and one intense part of the book shows his support circle intervening when they worry about it happening again. This concern for Jack mirrors real life statistics. The Trevor Project indicates that LGB teens are three times more likely to have contemplated suicide and five times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual teens. This story recounts a reality that many LGBTQ teenagers face.
However, Jack's suicide attempt is mostly framed in the past. During the events of this book, Jack has a support network surrounding him. The author's aim is to show that life for LGBTQ teens can get better, as she tells a story of empowerment. After Benjamin is targeted for being gay, Jack pushes back. He works to organize a pride parade, worrying that nobody will show up and that he might be targeted too. However, the event is wildly successful and leads to a joyous conclusion, showing that love can overcome hate.
When I include this book in my classroom library, I will include a trigger warning alerting students who might be upset by the topic of suicide and offering resources for those who might need it. While some might be hesitant to use books with a heavy topic like suicide, I think that a book that shows this part of reality for LGBTQ teens is important, particularly given the empowering message. The Stone Rainbow won the 2021 Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award in the grade 7 to 9 category, which seems like a good age range for this book.
I am aware that the author does not seem to be writing from a place of personal experience. Supplementing this story with other books by LGBTQ authors is essential. I highly recommend The Magic Fish, a beautiful graphic novel about the relationship between a son and mother, or Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle, a non-fiction examination of past and present Pride celebrations.