Genta Sebastian’s Award Winning “Riding the Rainbow”
I met Genta Sebastian two years ago via a local writing group, and from the moment I began beta-reading one of her submissions I fell in love with her writing. Since that fateful day we’ve attended WisCon 2014 together as well as worked together (along with six other authors) to publish a short story anthology. Thus it came as no surprise to me when her novel Riding the Rainbow was announced to be this year’s winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award in the Young Adult Category. If you are not familiar with the Golden Crown Literary Society Awards, they are THE premiere awards for lesbian authors. In other words, this is a pretty big deal.
Let me take you through all the reasons Riding the Rainbow deserves the accolades it is receiving right now!
Not offensive to women = 1 pt*
Easily passed. I did not find myself physically or emotionally uncomfortable by how the women characters were speaking, acting, or portrayed in this book. I was engaged by, and impressed by, the women characters.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
Easily passed. The story is told from the point of view of fifth-grade Lily, the daughter of two openly lesbian women in a small town in South Dakota. The story also features multiple girls from Lily’s school, as well as a friendship between Lily and a girl named Clara.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
Easily passed. The story revolves around Lily and the difficulties she faces, which most of the time do not include discussing boys or men.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
Riding the Rainbow is a heart-warming read, filled with all the trials and tribulations of pre-adolescence. Lily tries to understand the prejudices of adults around her, faces school bullies, grapples with her poor eyesight, and struggles to accept how her family is different, all the while stumbling her way towards the secrets of real happiness: being true to yourself. Happy and sad surprises hide behind every page. Throughout the story I felt like Lily’s third mom, rooting for this strong little girl to claim her place in the imperfect world.
Genta doesn’t shy away from showing the brutal reality of prejudice, but she also doesn’t shy away from highlighting the goodness in people’s hearts. She has a way of writing that adds depth to every character that enters the story, no matter how brief a time they are present. I can picture vividly the earnest, yet sad, Charlie, whom Lily meets briefly at the pancake breakfast. I wish I could have a conversation with Mrs. Bluestone over a bowl of ice cream at Bluestone’s Confectionary, because she seems like just the sort of kind, worldly woman who would have an answer, and ice cream flavor, for every heartache. I grimaced at every encounter Lily had with the “preps” of her 5th grade class, and with no effort could imagine the superficial and mean-spirited Jenna, surrounded by her entourage.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
Riding the Rainbow is equal parts social commentary and equal parts the story of a little (well-loved) girl’s courage. Genta wrote the story prior to the Supreme Courts ruling that made gay marriage legal, but that doesn’t make the situations in the book any less relevant. The overarching message of “being true to yourself” is an honest one. The story acknowledges all the dangers that being true to oneself carries, as well as all the dangers of not being true to oneself. Heavy topics such as suicide and blackmail are touched on, and play out, before Lily’s eyes as she tries to comprehend them.
Fortunately, Lily’s mothers are both extraordinary women who are able to guide her through the messiness of this reality. They are practically the perfect parents, giving even-handed advice and allowing Lily to work through through some tough questions about what it means to be part of a rainbow family. One is a lawyer, the other a microbiologist, and they reside in a house painted in all the colors of the rainbow. They take Lily to PFLAG events and volunteer at the PRIDE festival as a family. In other words, they embrace who they really are.
Without breaking a sweat Genta’s Riding the Rainbow has passed the Scale of Inclusivity with flying colors. This is a book that belongs on every young adult’s shelf. Please recommend it to your local library!
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*This is a category that could get very complicated, very quickly, if we tried to list everything that could be offensive to women. Instead, we use this category as a way of showing our own personal reaction to whatever we are reviewing. All contributors to this site are women and can speak from a woman’s perspective. However, no woman can speak for all women so we do our best to explain our choice one way or the other. We encourage all readers to share their opinions in the comments of every post if they want to express agreement or disagreement with our rankings.