Longlisted for The Story Prize & the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection
NPR, A Best Book of the Year
Debutiful, A Best Book of the Year
Publishers Weekly, A Best Summer Read
Named a Most Anticipated Book by TIME, Nerd Daily, Lit Hub, LGBTQ Reads, Electric Literature, The Millions, and Seahawk
"For far too long, queer, trans and non-binary people have been massively underrepresented in American fiction. Debut author Lydia Conklin aims to change that with their beautiful short story collection. The stories here tackle complex issues of identity and self-discovery with sometimes heartbreaking insight; Conklin doesn’t shy away from addressing their characters’ often painful journeys. This is an absolute triumph of a book." —Michael Schaub, A NPR Best Book of the Year
"Explores and celebrates uncertain and transitory moments of gender identity with humor and verve." —The New York Times Book Review
"Highlights queer, gender-nonconforming, and trans characters. Most are seeking some sense of connection . . . Conklin portrays them all with warmth and compassion."—Time, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year
"Lydia Conklin’s timely debut, Rainbow Rainbow, should be celebrated as both a work of activism and a literary triumph . . . Reading about these poignant inner lives is absorbing and thought-provoking." —Rigoberto González, San Francisco Chronicle
"Conklin's immense storytelling acumen is on incredible display here within every tale and on every page. Don't miss this one." —Jim Piechota, The Bay Area Reporter
"Dazzling . . . Compulsively readable." —Emma Specter, Vogue
"Gleefully queer . . . Rainbow Rainbow weaves between hope and despair, love and fear as its characters—a lesbian comics artist, a sex addict, a trans vlogger, various teenagers coming-of-age (and into their sexuality)—wrestle with the fraught dynamics of gender identity and queer romance in the 21st century." —Lauren Puckett-Pope, Elle
"Effervescent . . . Conklin’s compassionate stories are so accomplished and sure-footed that you’ll be shocked to learn this is their debut." —Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
"If you dig queer stories, these are the queerest of the queer! Full of joy, nerve and verve, this debut collection is a stunner." —Karla Strand, Ms.
"Lydia Conklin’s Rainbow Rainbow offers readers a masterful collage of perspectives from people living—or trying to live—their best possible lives. It’s real, raw, and occasionally brutal, but queer and trans readers will find many of their feelings and experiences reflected here." —K.W. Colyard, Bustle
"Dazzlingly immersive . . . There is darkness and shadow here alongside humor and wit. The characters feel alive as Conklin expertly navigates the tricky, awkward, beautiful, and horrifying moments that life will always present. Rainbow Rainbow is playful at the same time that it poses existential questions of morality, truth, good, bad, and everything in between." —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
"Delightful . . . Expect to cry and laugh at these unlikely tales of humanity." —Maybelle Morgan, Refinery29
"Queer in every way . . . Immersive . . . Laugh-out-loud funny." —Sarah Neilson, A Them Best Book of Summer
"From the the very first story about a lesbian couple in perpetual conflict over procreation, Conklin cements their mastery at creating fascinating, flawed, nuanced, and truly human characters whose feelings, desires, and insecurities bleed from every page . . . At times funny, at times sexy, and at times downright uncomfortable, it's a sharply drawn collection in which many will no doubt find not just an entertaining and compelling read, but kinship and clarity." —Dahlia Adler, BuzzFeed
"Captivating and brimming with love for queer life in all its weird glory, Lydia Conklin’s debut collection is by turns exuberant, tragic, funny, and whisper-quiet. Conklin’s luminescent portrayals open a doorway into the queer universe for readers of all stripes. Walk through, Conklin beckons, make yourself at home. . . . The stories feel high-stakes and riveting, every last one . . . The book is a deeply necessary and urgent showcase of sorts: a place for readers to learn and re-learn themselves, a place of complexity and confrontation and joy . . . Rainbow Rainbow invites readers to realize themselves, however they are now, and however they will be." —Kasey Peters, Chicago Review of Books
"Vibrant, heartfelt, and incredibly crafted." —Electric Literature, A Best Book of the Year
"Fiction-as-talisman . . . There is so, so much to love in this collection: its melancholic realism, its desperate and heartfelt protagonists, its narrative willingness to follow through with consequences rather than to flinch from the implications of a story’s action . . . Rainbow Rainbow is a cat’s-cradle strong enough to catch even the nerviest reader (me), a safety net for the most easily bruised parts of our hearts." —Yashwina Canter, Autostraddle
"Conklin has a masterful grasp on how to craft the short story from character to tone; from humor to thought-provoking. These short stories should be studied by any aspiring writer." —Debutiful, A Best Debut Book of the Year
"Embracing eagerness and insecurity, doubt and fortitude, Conklin’s ten tales resonate through the characters’ dynamic moments of realization." —Booklist
"Conklin introduces themself as a writer to watch with these open-eyed, tenderhearted, well-crafted stories." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Conklin brings nuance and compassion to the subject matter and displays a captivating interest in human contradiction. Conklin’s command of structure ensures that each story has a satisfying arc, but most impressive is the author’s precise and evocative prose . . . This talented writer is brimming with skills and heart." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Throughout, Conklin is gracefully multi-note as they reveal the complexities of queer relationships, always allowing their characters to be themselves." —Library Journal
Conklin delves into moments of decision, loss, and self-discovery among a set of queer characters in this superior debut collection. In “Laramie Time,” a lesbian cartoonist agrees to pursue motherhood with her girlfriend and finds that the planning process defies her expectations. Conklin refreshingly illuminates the anxieties and longings of the early pandemic in “Pink Knives,” in which a nonbinary narrator in an open relationship navigates a hookup before having top surgery. In the collection’s most aching entry, “Sunny Talks,” a secretly nonbinary person chaperones their out trans nephew, who is a minor YouTube celebrity, at a convention for trans vloggers. Conklin brings nuance and compassion to the subject matter and displays a captivating interest in human contradiction. Conklin’s command of structure ensures that each story has a satisfying arc, but most impressive is the author’s precise and evocative prose. Striking images dot the collection like jewels, as in “A Fearless Moral Inventory,” about a sex addict who swears off an annual street fair: “The sun was a red rip on the horizon, gilding the doughnut of the sleeping ferrets in their cage.” This talented writer is brimming with skills and heart. Agent: Samantha Shea, Georges Borchardt. (May)
DEBUT A winner of Rona Jaffe, and Pushcart Prizes honors, Conklin offers a first collection presenting queer, gender-nonconforming, and trans characters in a series of briskly told narratives. Here, fifth grader Coco happily ends up being an ox rather that a matriarch in school reenactment of the Oregon Trail, appalling her parents and bringing forth giggles from classmates. But she's happy with her role—"What she wanted to be was a boy. Like Devon or Alex, but nice"—and not only does she not die in the play (like so many of the pioneers) but she ends up able to challenge her obnoxious nickname. Elsewhere, a woman who has triumphed with her comic strip about lesbian turtles while anxiously resisting having a child with her lover, Maggie, finally succumbs to the idea. But at the last moment, she quietly sabotages the effort, knowing that she's wrecking the relationship but realizing that she has been manipulated. VERDICT Throughout, Conklin is gracefully multi-note as they reveal the complexities of queer relationships, always allowing their characters to be themselves.
An award-winning author offers a spectrum of LGBTQ+ characters in their debut collection.
In “Laramie Time,” a comics artist uncovers some truths about herself and her lover when they ask a friend to help them make a baby. The protagonist of “Cheerful Until Next Time” meets the man he wants to become and then falls in love with him. “The Black Winter of New England,” “Ooh, the Suburbs,” and “Pioneer” show adolescents discovering—often painfully—their sexuality and their gender. The word transition is used to describe the processes transgender people undertake to live more fully as their true selves—and there are certainly transgender people undergoing this sort of transition depicted here—but the people in these stories are all in the midst of transitions of multiple kinds, and Conklin addresses the way society is changing, too. The titular character in “Sunny Talks” is a trans teen who has amassed a respectable following on YouTube by sharing his views on “pansexuality, passing privilege, cisnormativity, he/him lesbians, PGPs, chasers, and demiromanticism.” That sentence would have been shocking just 10 years ago, and it will undoubtedly confound a lot of people even now. These stories assay serious topics, such as pedophilia and sexual assault. In “Boy Jump,” the main character visits a Holocaust memorial in Poland and reflects on the places where it’s not safe for LGBTQ+ people to travel in Eastern Europe. But these are not cautionary tales about being queer. Conklin is adept at communicating complexity and writes in a plainspoken style that does not invite sensationalizing. In each story, a rainbow appears. We might read this as a motif underscoring the full range of human sexualities and genders—and, if it’s not too corny, we might see it as a symbol of hope.
Conklin introduces themself as a writer to watch with these open-eyed, tenderhearted, well-crafted stories.