Title: Unicorns and Rainbow Poop
Author: Sam Kadence
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Pages/Word Count: 260 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: Ex-boyband member Dane Karlson is struggling to overcome an eating disorder and a body dismorphic disorder.
His fall through a glass table puts him in rehab and on the road to recovery. Then a friend dies. When depression causes him to lose ground, he calls for the only person he trusts—former bandmate Tommy. But Tommy doesn’t know how to help. He begs his friend Sebastian “Bas” Axelrod to aid them through the emotional struggle.
Bas, an openly gay high school student who’s recently lost his grandmother, is trying to survive his last few months of school before escaping to Stanford. Having just lost the only person in his family to care for him, he is victim to the cruelty of the others. His younger brother bullies him, and his parents are suing him for his gran’s inheritance. When Tommy calls, Bas can’t help but run to his side.
Together Dane and Bas find a middle ground, supporting each other through the lows, dancing together during the highs. They build friendships and plan for the prom and graduation, thinking positively as long as they are together.
Review: Let me begin this discussion of Unicorns and Rainbow Poop by telling you that this is not a standalone novel. To understand this second installment in the Vocal Growth series by Sam Kadence, it is important that you have read the first book, On The Right Track. Without that prior story under your belt, the relationships and story lines in this new novel will make little sense.
The story picks up on the heels of the dissolution of the band, Vocal Growth. Ru has begun a solo career and is still very much in love with high school junior, Adam. Tommy, the oldest in the group is drifting in and out of a world where drugs and alcohol are rapidly gaining a deeper grip on his life. And poor Dane has finally collapsed and is in rehab, struggling with the past abuse from his parents and an eating disorder that threatens to kill him if he cannot begin to see food as a source of energy rather than the enemy.
Dane is trapped inside the prison of his memories, which include everything from being used as a sexual favor for his mother’s countless stream of friends, to the beatings his father inflicted on him while drilling into his head that no son of his would grow up to be a faggot. When he escaped his hellish life and joined the boy band, Vocal Growth, he thought he would be able to leave his past behind. But, the relentless grip it has on him begins to manifest itself as a vicious cycle of eating and exercising to the point where he collapses into a glass coffee table and has to be hospitalized.
When Tommy is finally able to see Dane, he knows that something must be done beyond what the rehab center is offering. Calling on his friend, Bas, himself a victim of rape and abuse, the two of them try to help Dane see that he is not a monster and that he is loved. But Dane has a long road to recovery in front of him, and he is grappling with his sexuality and all the negatives associated with the idea of possibly being gay. Time and again, Bas and his other friends assure him that he need not be gay, straight, bi or even trans, but instead, he can simply be Dane and love whom he pleases. But demons are not easily dispelled, and Bas is haunted by several of his own. Can Bas help Dane see his true self? Can these two wounded young men find happiness with each other?
Sam Kadence writes a story that has several important messages. The idea that embracing hope will lead us to love is perhaps the most vital one for Dane and, yes, even Bas to hear. The author could not have stated more clearly that our thinking is a product of the environment in which we grew up, and to undo years of bigotry and abuse is a huge battle for both boys. But time and again, the story leads us to the conclusion that we must first want to heal, want to change, want to reach beyond the lies we have been told and embrace truth.
I was so grateful to watch the slow evolution of this tale. No quick fixes here; rather, Dane’s path would be an arduous and painful journey into the light. He was such a lost character, almost painfully naïve and, in many ways, completely unable to keep from spewing the homophobic rants he endured at the hands of an abusive and bigoted father. Bas, who often seemed mature beyond his years, tried so very hard to help Dane while struggling with the loss of his own sole support, his grandmother. Both boys had been tossed aside by their parent’s years before and now lived alone, needy and desperate in many ways.
So many of the themes Sam Kadence weaves through this novel will hit teens exactly where they live. Body image issues, eating disorders, bullying and homophobic parents are certainly real life issues that LGBT teens deal with every day. This novel never shied away from the reality of those horrors but instead allowed for the idea that healing can take place given the right combination of therapy and determination. Each time, we are reminded that one must want to heal and, in turn, that it takes a cadre of friends and therapists to get us there.
Perhaps the only niggle I had with this novel was the fact that these boys often seemed way more mature than any teens I have met. The idea that Bas would consult with Dane’s doctor concerning his therapy seemed a bit farfetched considering Bas was merely a high school senior. While I understood that we were dealing with emancipated teens, there still seemed to be just too much ease in the way they all rallied around Dane and knew just how to help fix him.
However, Unicorns and Rainbow Poop had so many remarkable moments that I was often able to set aside my disbelief and simply enjoy this story. I think this is a valuable and well-written story that deserves to be on every LGBT bookshelf where teen literature is offered.
You can buy Unicorns and Rainbow Poop here: