For the past four years, since his mother returned home to Jamaica to die, 16 year-old Thulani has lived a very isolated life. He shares a Brooklyn apartment with his older brother and pregnant sister-in-law, and cares for (lives for) his pigeon companions who live in a dovecote on the roof of their building. One day, from his rooftop refuge, he witnesses a woman being brutally raped and scares off her assailants. After helping her home, he can’t stop thinking about her – the one who drew him out of his isolation. He pursues her and in the process he rejoins the world.
One complex aspect of this story is Thulani’s pursuit of Ysa. Thulani is a super sweet young man, who I can’t imagine hurting a fly. Yet, as he initially begins to pursue Ysa, he follows her on the street and he watches her from a “safe” distance. His actions made me nervous not because I actually felt he posed any physical threat to Ysa, but because I worried for her emotional safety. Would she notice his stalking? Would she feel frightened? Stalking a recent victim of sexual abuse, let alone anyone, isn’t the most respectful way to try to get to know someone. But I’m glad that Williams-Garcia has Thulani make this error in judgment, because it gives Ysa the opportunity to put him in his place, allowing the author to send a message to young readers about power and consent. After this encounter, Thulani is able to win Ysa’s trust and friendship through his persistence and his willingness to let her take control and call the shots. Thulani and Ysa form an unusual bond, as two individuals who have to learn to let down the protective barriers over their hearts in order to truly share themselves with one another.
While Everytime a Rainbow Dies is a love story, it is also about connection, community, responsibility and growing up. Williams-Garcia creates a convincing sense of place, an engaging cast of supporting characters, and meaningful, believable dialogue. While not entirely uneventful, the plot feels very “every day”, so if you’re looking for intense plot arcs, you may want to look elsewhere.
On a side note, this book was banned from an elementary school in Texas back in 2004 for sexual content. While I don’t believe in book banning, I do think that this book was an odd selection for an elementary library since it is a YA title and has some fairly graphic sexual content.