Rainbow Islands by Devin Harnois: 5/10 Stars

 

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In the Christian Republic, homosexual people are given two choices—a camp to “fix” them, or exile to the distant islands populated by lesbians and gay men.

Sixteen-year-old Jason chooses exile and expects a hardscrabble life but instead finds a thriving, supportive community. While exploring his identity as a transgender boy he also discovers adventure: kraken attacks, naval battles, a flying island built by asexual people, and a daring escape involving glow-in-the-dark paint. He also has a desperate crush on Sky, a spirited buccaneer girl, but fear keeps him from expressing his feelings.

When Jason and his companions discover the Republicans are planning a war of extermination, they rally the people of the Rainbow Islands to fight back.

Shy, bookish Jason will have to find his inner courage or everything and everyone he loves will be lost forever.

 

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Overall Rating: 5/10 stars

Leigh’s Review: 3/5 Stars

The concept of this book sounds amazing. Islands where loads of queer people live in harmony! Airships, eagle-riders, buccaneers, krakens! It had a steampunk feel to it, which I enjoyed, and lots of adventure and some sweet romance.

Through the whole book, I didn’t encounter a single red flag in regards to the trans content. Everything was handled well, everyone was accepting, and the only time there were some cringe-worthy comments made, it was Jason’s internal monologue as he got over the ideas that had been ingrained in his mind since birth by his bigoted community and parents. The author carefully avoided deadnames and misgendering. There were some Trans 101 discussions between Jason and his mentor, brief explanations of binding and packing and navigating dysphoria and sex. Kudos to the author for avoiding every awful trans fiction pitfall I’ve ever encountered.

In regards to the rest of the book, I felt rather iffy on it. The basic concept is that the “Christian Republic” decided to deal with homosexuality in a “humane” way by exiling any homosexual people to two islands. There is one island for lesbians and one for gay men. While characters on the islands do cover the fact that there are way more queer identities than lesbian/gay, it felt odd the way it was done. They say that anyone can live anywhere and do anything they want on the islands, but then there are these rigid divisions also stated in there. Asexual people are super technologically advanced and live on a floating island above the two main islands. Some of them ride giant eagles which, for some reason, will only bond with asexual people. Bisexual people are buccaneers and spend most of their time on ships.

It felt strange to have this wonderful accepting community and then set out these “the asexuals live here and are all this-and-this, the bisexuals live here and do such-and-such…” divisions.

The antagonists being the “Christian Republic” gave me heebie-jeebies, too. It felt super heavy-handed with anti-Christian/”Christians are the enemies of queers” ideas. It even quoted from the Bible at a couple points. The same plot could have worked with a fantasy parallel religion without demonizing an entire real world religion (and yes, I am aware that loads of Christians are homophobic assholes, but plenty aren’t, and it made me uncomfortable the way the stereotype was written here).

I kept thinking “This book reminds me of Chameleon Moon” as I read—super perfect rainbow world where everyone is queer and every queer person is amazing and accepting and supportive. We do need books like this, we need to see queer people being happy and having adventures. Just like with Chameleon Moon, though, this perfect rainbow world was so perfect it ended up feeling artificial. The author was so careful to avoid anything that could possibly be harmful, he harmed his own writing.

Maria’s Review: 2/5 Stars

I have such a hard time reviewing this book.
On the one hand I loved the concept of the story. In a world where being queer will only get you exiled or sent to conversion camp, the idea of two islands full of a diverse and *free* group of us living a happy life is appealing in a way that brings me happy and all the sad feels at the same time.
Add in the elements of magic and even a tiny feel of a bit of steampunk maybe, and I should’ve been sold. But sadly… I wasn’t. Not really. Although many of the elements worked for me. I loved Sky, the love interest, and the captain. And the aces riding huge eagles as messengers. The whole concept of living on these islands – and bisexual pirates ftw! (Seriously. That was amazing.)
What made it hard for me to read was 1) the writing, and 2) spending time in Jason’s head, especially in the beginning.
1) The writing just fell flat for me. I wasn’t as engaged as I wanted to be, even while reading the action scenes. I couldn’t form an emotional connection to most characters and couldn’t *feel* them or what was going on in their heads and hearts. Everything about the war was even harder to grasp emotionally for me. I just… couldn’t.
2) Jason comes from a family devout to the Christian Republic and their propaganda. He grew up in an allocishet world, and he absorbed every little bigoted thing his oppressors taught him. While it gets addressed and discussed repeatedly and in a natural way throughout the book – starting with sexual orientations and ending with gender identities and him getting to know more about the possibility of transitioning. I still struggled reading it. Some of his thoughts made me flinch, some shudder, and getting through these initial chapters was very hard for me at times.
Overall this book has me torn. I adored the concept and certain elements of it. While at the same time not being able to enjoy it the way I wished I would. It pains me a bit, because this is *not* a bad book at all, but I’m giving 2 stars because it just didn’t work for me.
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One thought on “Rainbow Islands by Devin Harnois: 5/10 Stars

  1. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I read a tumblr or twitter thread which basically started with a hypothetical about LGBTQ people being exiled and kept getting more elaborate as people added on to it. Is that where this novel came from? Because the asexual flying island in particular rings a bell.

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