October 03, 2019

The Stone Rainbow

Written by Liane Shaw
Second Story Press
272 pp.
Ages 13-18
September 2019

Liane Shaw introduced her characters Ryan and Jack to YA audiences in her novel Caterpillars Can't Swim (Second Story Press, 2017), telling the origin story of their accidental friendship and Jack's acceptance of his sexuality. Though only a handful of others in his life, including his mom, Ryan's mom. Ryan's friend Cody and Jack's counselor Matthew, know that Jack is gay, he has capitulated that expressing that sexuality in the small town of Thompson Mills is unlikely.
This town is so small that being different usually means you're flying solo. (pg. 61)
In The Stone Rainbow, Jack meets the new guy at school, Benjamin Lee, and Jack is smitten. The new vice-principal's son is beautiful and kind and Jack doesn't know what to do. He's used to hiding in his "caterpillar camouflage" (pg. 8) and now the idea of putting himself out there, expressing his interest in anyone, especially a young man who may or may not reciprocate that interest, is terrifying.  Staying a caterpillar, on the other hand, is familiar, even if stifling.

Benjamin, on the other hand, is not willing to stay in the closet. When they are assigned an art project that reflects something of social and personal significance, he creates a massive rainbow of coloured stones on plywood. He honours and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community with the myriad of messages on the stones that reflect the rainbow's symbolism. Though Benjamin is pretty much out, his art project rouses all the nastiness that Jack had already witnessed in his town. But when Benjamin is attacked, Jack decides to focus on something positive that might help Benjamin as well: a Pride parade. Fortunately, Jack discovers that there's a whole lot more support for him and Benjamin and a Pride event than he could ever have imagined.

Though The Stone Rainbow is a story of acceptance of self and others, it is also a tragic story that depicts the reality for those who may be perceived as different. There is violence and hate and masks. Jack knows what it is to come out–as he did to his mother in Caterpillars Can't Swim–so he still feels compelled to hide his sexuality from his peers and others, fearing their reactions, and shielding his true self and expression of that self. Even with supports from Ryan and others, it's not until Jack meets Benjamin that he is able to shed that chrysalis to reveal the butterfly he was meant to be. It is both "terrifying and wonderful" (pg. 239) and Jack recognizes he "could be as beautiful as I want to be because no one cares if a butterfly is a boy or a girl. It's just a pretty part of nature that everyone accepts." (pg. 242)

With her diverse cast of characters, Liane Shaw demonstrates that differences make a community richer, though there are the unenlightened who still need to learn this lesson in compassion and tolerance. If The Stone Rainbow teaches us anything it's that it's the blending of all into a spectacular prism of life that makes our world complete and beautiful.
If everyone just decides to treat everyone else with kindness, it all goes away. Intolerance, disrespect, racism, homophobia, misogyny, bullying, and all the other horrible words we've had to invent to find a way to label the endless crap people seem to feel the need to throw at each other...all wiped out by one simple command. Be kind. (pg. 214)

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