The Barnes & Noble Review
In a beautifully written but hard-hitting tale about the harsh realities of life, African-American author Rita Williams-Garcia offers the elegantly poignant young adult novel Every Time a Rainbow Dies. Sixteen-year-old Thulani has been adrift in his life ever since the death of his mother. But the healing power of love, along with a tragic event and the vagaries of fate, eventually give Thulani's life new meaning and direction.
Living in the Brooklyn brownstone he and his older brother inherited upon their mother's death, Thulani's only interest in life is the pigeons he keeps in a dovecote up on the roof. As much as possible, he ignores his brother's attempts to "man him up" and his pregnant sister-in-law's incessant nagging. He has no direction, no goals, no purpose. But that all changes when he witnesses a vicious rape in the alley below his rooftop. By the time Thulani reaches the girl, her attackers have fled. But instead of the gratitude and relief he expects from her, Thulani is cursed, shunned, and even slapped by the battered girl.
In the weeks that follow, Thulani finds himself obsessing over the girl, whose name, he learns, is Ysa. He follows her during the day to see where she goes and dreams about her at night. It takes weeks before he has the courage to approach her, and his reception is not a warm one. But Thulani is determined and persistent, a trait that eventually wears down Ysa's defenses. Now for the first time since his mother's death, Thulani has something other than his birds that he cares about, but each time happiness seems within his grasp, something happens to take it away from him. Then Thulani's brother makes some decisions that will force Thulani to redirect his entire life. This crisis, combined with his brother's well-meaning but heartbreaking betrayals and the tenuous nature of his relationship with Ysa, teach Thulani how to love, forgive, and stand up for what he believes in.
Every Time a Rainbow Dies isn't always an easy read. A violent rape scene, which is depicted in vivid detail, and some sexual imagery that can, at times, be a bit coarse, dictate caution when considering the book's appropriateness for some YA readers. But although Williams-Garcia offers no illusions about the harsh realities of life, she also does an amazing job of proffering hope where there seemingly is none. For those who don't need their tales sugarcoated, this is a painful but rewarding read.
One of the most powerful new voices in young adult literature, Garcia explores loss and love, identity, and self-determination...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Williams-Garcia (Like Sisters on the Homefront) paints a remarkably sympathetic portrait of 16-year-old Thulani, who came to Brooklyn from Jamaica with his mother and brother. As the novel opens, he is tending his beloved rock doves on the roof of his townhouse when he witnesses a rape. After he helps the young woman home, he cannot stop thinking of her; the author honestly conveys the mix of emotions the hero feels (sorrow, titillation, compassion, anger). Revisiting the scene of her assault, he discovers a rainbow-colored skirt that he knows must be hers, which he keeps and mounts on his bedroom wall. He follows her around until he works up the courage to talk with her, learns her name--Ysa--then falls in love with her. Through their budding relationship and her passion for life and her studies (textile design), Thulani works up the courage to accomplish his own goals, to break through his brooding silence and to accept his mother's death. Through Ysa's gradual willingness to trust Thulani, she helps him to live with uncertainty and sadness. The rape and, later, a lovemaking scene between Ysa and Thulani, are explicitly drawn, yet the manner in which Williams-Garcia contrasts the violence of one and the gentleness of the other underscores the myriad ways in which their relationship heals old wounds. With its layered yet understated language, including snippets of Jamaican and Haitian "patois" and complex yet truthful characterizations, this novel will hold the rapt attention of sophisticated readers. Ages 14-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A remarkably sympathetic portrait of 16-year-old Thulani, who came to Brooklyn from Jamaica with his mother and brother, and aids a rape victim, wrote PW in a starred review. With its layered yet understated language, and complex yet truthful characterizations, this novel will hold the rapt attention of sophisticated readers. Ages 14-up. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2001: This is a combination of grit and poetry. Williams-Garcia uses a slightly more distant third-person narrative to tell about Thulani's love for Ysa. He is from Jamaica and she is from Haiti, but the two of them meet in New York City—in horrific circumstances. Thulani is up on the roof, tending his beloved pigeons, when he hears a scream and looks down to see a girl being raped in the alley. He runs down to help her, frightening off the rapists; he finds the girl beaten up, bleeding, and understandably hysterical. She strikes out against him, thinking he is another rapist, but he manages to calm her enough to get her home. He urges her to call the police. He becomes slightly obsessed with her, even though she has no interest in even his friendship. Another girl is a distraction for a time, but he really can only think about Ysa. The background to their love evolving is the story of Thulani's grief for his dead mother, his conflict with the older brother who is his guardian, and his broken connection to the father left behind in Jamaica. Ysa is an artist, trying hard to qualify to get into a school of design to pursue her craft; she too is lonely, with a sad family history. The sexual encounters, the violence of the rape, and the gentleness with which Thulani makes love to Ysa nearly a year afterwards, are described in some detail. There is something disturbing about Thulani's obsession with her, which results in his frequent truancy and lack of effort in school. Readers do understand that he is vulnerable because of his mother's death, and the end of the brief story results in some hope that his upcoming journey to Jamaica tofind his father will definitely make him stronger and ready to believe in his own future. As usual, Williams-Garcia makes us really care about her characters and their struggles. KLIATT Codes: S*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2001, HarperTempest, 166p.,
Still grieving from his mother's death three years earlier, sixteen-year-old Thulani lives in a self-imposed emotional coma with only the pigeons he keeps on his Brooklyn rooftop as friends, until the night he witnesses a rape from his aerie. The decision to intervene sets him back on the road to recovery. Ysa, the victim, has her own wounds to heal, but cautiously the two take fledgling steps toward loveand in the process, reconciliation with their lives. PEN/Norma Klein awardee Williams-Garcia's portrait of the slow-moving, Jamaican-born Thulani is paced as carefully as Thulani's mindand as poetically, too. This is a strong, sometimes harrowing, lovely piece of writing. 2001, HarperCollins Children's Books, $15.95 and $15.89. Ages 14 up. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
Sixteen-year-old Thulani witnesses a horrific event. While tending his pigeons on the rooftop of the brownstone he shares with his brother and sister-in-law in Brooklyn, he looks down into the alley and sees a girl being raped. Quickly, he runs to her rescue and helps the nearly naked, incoherent victim to her house. She slams the door in his face, and that should be the end, but it is not. Thulani cannot get the girl named Ysa out of his head. Unable to focus on school, work, or his future since the death of his adored mother three years earlier, Thulani finds himself concentrating solely on Ysa's well being. As he eventually wins her over, he realizes that even attaining his dream girl cannot heal the hole in his heart that his mother left. Only he can make the decision to honor his mother's memory by getting on with his life. Williams-Garcia's writing becomes richer and more realized with each subsequent novel. The ardent Thulani is both utterly sincere and utterly clueless in his approach to Ysa, making him completely real and endearing. For comic relief, the author inserts finger-wagging, nosy Shakira, Thulani's bossy sister-in-law, who scolds him lovingly day and night. Thulani and Ysa do share some intimate moments, making Rainbow more suited to older teens, but Williams-Garcia's descriptive prose is elegant, never graphic. This Caribbean-flavored love story is a must-have for all public and high school libraries. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, HarperCollins, 166p, . Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Jennifer Hubert SOURCE: VOYA,June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Williams-Garcia delivers an insightful, sensitive, and engaging tale where realistic grit fails to swamp the teen characters as they make strong and healthy choices. Thulani is shy and withdrawn when readers meet him on the rooftop of his Brooklyn home, caring for his pigeons. However, the sight of a brutal rape in the street below brings him to life for the first time since his mother's death three years earlier. Thulani rescues the girl who, not surprisingly to either Thulani or readers, fails to show any gratitude. He, however, is smitten by her beauty and self-possession and works hard to gain her recognition over the ensuing weeks and months. A strong subplot pits Thulani against his older married brother and his wife, with whom he lives. Williams-Garcia writes convincingly from Thulani's viewpoint while allowing readers to understand and respect Ysa, the rape victim, in her initial coldness. Minor characters, including Thulani's elderly neighbor, the shopkeeper who employs him, and his sister-in-law, are multidimensional, with motivations that young people can comprehend and consider. Both book lovers and reluctant high school readers will appreciate this story and will find much to discuss during and after reading it.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
Every Time a Rainbow Dies
From on top of Brooklyn, Thulani watched the sun bed the clouds, waiting, as he always did, for his birds to return. He woke each morning with one thought: freeing his birds. Their cooing pulled him from sleep, called him up the attic steps and onto the roof of his brownstone. Each and every time it gave him a thrill to unlatch the door of the dovecote he had built and find himself besieged by fourteen pigeons, each a variation of white: snowy, spotted, dingy, or wing-stained. Every morning without fail he dropped cereal or seeds on the asphalt roof, recalled the meanderings of dreams better told to birds than people, then watched them fly off toward Prospect Park. As sure as he knew the view from the rooftop, he knew his birds would always return to him.
Thulani looked out into the graying predusk. Below him, in their apartment, his sister-in-law, Shakira, rubbed her belly, waiting for her husband to come in from work. On the street city buses became scarce, leaving Eastern Parkway to gypsy cabs and vans. Store owners locked up their shops, and street vendors packed up their tables. The day was coming to a close.
Thulani gazed down upon a couple who stopped to kiss. He watched how the man held the woman's head with both hands as she pulled herself into him. Even if they had felt his eyes, they would not have cared. From above them he could see that the world around the two did not exist.
Caught up in this couple, their kiss, and thinking about what drew people to be entwined so, Thulani was suddenly surprised by a legion of wings flapping about him.One by one, five rock doves descended onhim, their pink feet touching down on his arms and shoulders; the nine other birds stopped at his feet.
Of his birds, he loved Yoli and Dija best, two of three snowy hens he found as squabs on his roof. Yoli was the first to recognize him as a "mother," and Dija followed her lead. Their sister, Esme, however, was indifferent to his attention. Of all his birds, she would be the one to run off with another flock.
His treasured cocks, Bruno and Tai-Chi, were brothers with identical black wing stains whom Thulani could easily tell apart. Bruno was bold, a leader, and Tai-Chi, the graceful one, was proud of his wingspan. Both birds had become his when they followed Esme to the rooftop one evening, but they had eventually mated with her sisters.
These were the only birds he had bothered to name. The three hens, the cocks, and their brood were simply "my birds." Truer friends did not exist. In the two years since Thulani had become owner and caretaker of his flock, there had been no discord, no change in routine, and, in spite of Esme's iffiness, no defections. His birds needed him to free them in the morning; he needed them to return before nightfall. Only when they died would they leave him.
In an act of dominance Bruno hopped from Thulani's shoulder to his head. Thulani grabbed Bruno's feet and carefully pried the bird's talons from his dreadlocks. "Stop showing off for Yoli. I know she's yours."
He threw Bruno up to the sky, then flung the others perched on his arms airborne as well. This was how his birds began their chasing game'running, hopping, and flying in circles around the roof. Each bird aimed for Thulani, to land on his shoulders, arms, or head.
Bruno wanted his head, but Thulani swerved, missing those pink feet. He twisted, turned, waved his arms, and ducked. He could not shake Bruno or Tai-Chi, nor could he resist his hens.
When he tired or they tired, or when Shakira yelled up from the apartment window, "Cut the mischief!" he unlatched the door of the dovecote so they could roost.
"Home," he said in response to their cooing and flapping. "Home."
On his word they gathered to be let into the dovecote, an improvement on the avocado crate from Yong Moon's Fresh Fruits. The crate had served Yoli, Dija, and Esme as squabs but would not do as the three sisters grew into voluptuous hens that attracted other birds to the rooftop. In shop class he had made a bigger home with a lock and a swinging door. He had enjoyed building the dovecote and was at ease with a hammer."Home, Dija; home, Yoli; home, Bruno," he coaxed, until all hopped into the dovecote to roost.
Only one hen, Esme, lingered. Esme refused to breed, which went against the very nature of a hen. He'd watch his cocks do the mating dance, puff their necks, bob their heads in and out, and hop to one side, only to be spurned by Esme, who took the role of coquette too far, never allowing any to catch her. Even though Esme had attracted many male pigeons, a mourning dove, and a seagull, Yoli and Dija were responsible for increasing the brood.
The lone hen stood her ground.
Thulani made kissing noises at her. This wouldn't do. He knelt and held out his hand filled with seeds, which caused a stir in the dovecote. Still, Esme showed no interest. She preferred to roost under the ledge where she and her sisters had been found, although the dovecote was kept clean and the water bowls were filled."Don't make me come and get you."
Esme tried to hop away. Thulani seized her, his thumb firmly planted against her beating heart. He grabbed her body before her wings could open. "It's better when you cooperate," he said, and dropped her into the box, then flipped the latch.
The July air began to cool. Thulani sat on the tarred roof next to his birds, his baggy T-shirt pulled over raised knees. Each pair, Yoli and Bruno, Dija and Tai-Chi, and others settled wing to wing. Even Esme recovered from the indignation of having been handled and joined in the low cooing. Every Time a Rainbow Dies. Copyright © by Rita Williams-Garcia. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.