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Rainbow Boys

About The Book

A Time Best YA Book of All Time (2021)

Navigating through an intolerant world and their own insecurities, three teenage boys find each other and the confidence to come out of the closet.

Three teenage boys, coming of age and out of the closet. Jason Carrillo is a jock with a steady girlfriend, but he can't stop dreaming about sex...with other guys. Kyle Meeks doesn't look gay, but he is. And he hopes he never has to tell anyone—especially his parents. Nelson Glassman is "out" to the entire world, but he can't tell the boy he loves that he wants to be more than just friends...

In a revealing debut novel that percolates with passion and wit, Alex Sanchez follows these very different high-school seniors as their struggles with sexuality and intolerance draw them into a triangle of love, betrayal, and ultimately, friendship.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide to

Rainbow Boys
By Alex Sanchez

About the Book

Three high school seniors—Jason, an athlete who things he might be gay; Kyle, who’s in the closet to his family and classmates; and Nelson, out and proud—struggle with the issues of friendship, homophobia, and sexual identity in this important debut novel by author Alex Sanchez.

Discussion Topics

1. On his way to the Rainbow Youth meeting, Jason refers to Nelson as the “school fag.” [pg.2] Why? According to Jason, what defines Nelson as homosexual? At the meeting he discovers “a pretty diverse-looking group.” What does “gay” look like to Jason? How does Jason stereotype gays and lesbians? How do these stereotypes impact how Jason feels about himself? How does hiding one’s identity affect self-esteem?

2. “Coming out means you’re no longer ashamed to tell people,” Shea explains. “It’s a question of liking yourself and feeling good about being gay.” For many reasons, however, people choose not to come out. Why do Jason and Kyle choose—to different degrees—to remain “in the closet” about their sexuality?

3. What helps them gain the confidence to come out to their friends and family?

4. Compare and contrast the boys’ family life. What is their relationship like with their parents? What opinions do their parents have on homosexuality? How do Jason’s and Kyle’s parents respond when they learn their sons are gay?

5. What is homophobia? How does homophobia manifest itself in the boys’ school? How do teachers and administrators address the verbal harassment and physical assaults to which Kyle and Nelson are subjected?

6. Nelson and Kyle want to start a Gay-Straight Alliance, or GSA, at their school. What is the purpose of a GSA? In what ways do Nelson and Kyle believe a GSA Would benefit students? What is Principal Mueller’s opinion? Do you agree or disagree with Principal Mueller? Why?

7. Community is a recurrent theme in Rainbow Boys. For example, the Rainbow Youth Group, Al-Anon, PFLAG, and what Shea describes as the “incredible lesbian community” of Smith College, all play a role. What are the benefits of community? Why would a person seek community support? Conversely, how does the absence of community affect self-esteem and personal development?

8. Nelson puts himself in danger when he agrees to meet an on-line friend in person. Why does Nelson seek relationships on-line? What are the dangers of Internet relationships? Why do you think he agrees to meet in person?

9. Nelson knows how to protect himself from HIV and STDs, but he does not use a condom when he is with Brick. Why? How could he have handled the situation differently? How does Nelson’s relationship with Jeremy challenge his thinking about safer sex and relationships?

10. What evidence in the story tells you Nelson is depressed? What factors have contributed to his depression? What is the connection between Nelson’s depression and the homophobic attitudes he encounters at school?

11. How have Jason, Kyle, and Nelson each changed by the end of the story?

Projects and Research

• Write “before and after” journal entries from the perspective of Jason, Kyle, or Nelson. For example, writing from Jason’s point of view, think about his feelings before and after attending the Rainbow Youth meeting. How does he feel about the meeting? What questions does he have? What are his fears? For Kyle, consider journal entries before and after tutoring Jason for the first time. Imagine what Nelson might be experiencing before and after attending the school board meeting.

• Create posters or place public service announcements in your school and local newspaper advertising organizations, hot lines, and support groups available to gay teens and their parents. Use the resources in the back of the book to guide your information-gathering.

• Research hate crime legislation on the local, state, and national level. How have gay men and lesbians been affected by discrimination and homophobia? How has law enforcement responded to hate crimes? What is the reaction of the community? On the Internet, visit the Human Rights Campaign at and the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) at for more information and helpful links.

• Principal Mueller fears a Gay-Straight Alliance will detract from student’s learning; Nelson and his mother feel it will promote tolerance and acceptance toward gay students, allowing them to go to school without fear of discrimination and prejudice. Debate the pros and cons of a Gay-Straight Alliance. If your school has a GSA, interview members and adult facilitators. If not, find out what schools, if any, in your area do have a GSA. What effect has the GSA had on the school culture? Visit the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network at to find out more.

• How are gays and lesbians treated in your school? For example, how do teachers and administrators respond to homophobic remarks and antigay sentiment? How do students treat gay classmates? Are there policies in place that protect students and teachers against discrimination based on sexual orientation? Educate yourself about policies affecting gay students; write a letter to the principal and the school board requesting they adopt an anti-bias policy to protect gay youth; organize a committee to address these issues in your school.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Alex Sanchez spent almost fifteen years working with youth. He is the author of the teen novels Boyfriends with Girlfriends, Bait, The God Box, Getting It, Rainbow Boys, Rainbow High, and Rainbow Road, as well as the Lambda Award–winning middle-grade novel So Hard to Say. Lambda Literary Foundation honored Alex with an Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists’ Prize. He lives in Thailand and Hollywood, Florida. Visit him at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (May 1, 2003)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780689857706
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

Nancy Garden author of Annie on My Mind and Good Moon Rising There are still woefully few books for young adults that explore in depth the coming-out process of young gay men. Alex Sanchez touches on nearly all the issues involved, taking his readers on a journey through the world of three gay teenagers as they struggle with virginity, sex, body image, denial, support groups, homophobia, activism, gay bashing, parental and peer reactions, Internet predators, HIV -- and love.

Patricia Nell Warren author of The Front Runner Rainbow Boys may do for high-schoolers what Heather Has Two Mommies did for grade-schoolers -- inspire acceptance of gayness in both straight students and about-to-come-out students.

James Howe author of The Watcher An important, groundbreaking book, Rainbow Boys takes an honest look at gay teen life today. The characters are enormously appealing and the situations as contemporary as the evening news. This is a book that could change thinking -- and could very well change lives.

Awards and Honors

  • Lincoln Award: Illinois Teen Readers' Choice Master List
  • ALA Best Books For Young Adults
  • Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults
  • Children's Literature Choice List
  • Lambda Literary Award Finalist

Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: Alex Sanchez