A Rainbow Above Us
A Rainbow Above Us contains most of Sharon Sala’s go-to tropes, some of her weakest writing, and is, frankly, not worth a read, especially if this is your first entrée into her Blessings, Georgia series.
Bowie James vowed years ago never to return to Blessings after he and his mom fled the town in his youth, but return he has, thanks to Hurricane Fanny. The storm has done some nasty damage to his grandmother’s property, putting it under four feet of water, and with nowhere else to go his Gran Pearl and Great Aunt Ella are staying in the local nursing home with other refugees, a place neither of them wishes to live. They call on Bowie in desperation, and he vows to help them – in spite of the fact that coming home puts him in the firing line for a confrontation with his family’s long-standing enemies, the Boones, an enmity made worse by Bowie’s obvious resemblance to Randall Boone, the man who raped Bowie’s mother.
Rowan Harper is a homeless refugee and orphan who’s made friends with Pearl and Ella in the shelter. She witnessed her father’s death in the flood, and although he was cold and abusive, he was the only important person in her life, and she continues to be haunted by what she saw. When Bowie comes to take the women home, Rowan comes with – and soon her vulnerable naiveté draws Bowie in.
While Bowie and Rowan become involved, the Boones begin to fall apart. And while some of them want to reconcile with Bowie, others remain bitterly divided. Only a tragedy might pave the way for forgiveness.
A Rainbow Above Us could have used a rewrite. Or several. As it is, it feels like a Shirley Temple movie with an extra inspirational gloss and porn between the grown-ups. While there are interesting ideas here, and the theme of forgiveness that weaves throughout the book is enjoyable, its characters speak like wooden dolls propped up by a weak plot instead of living, breathing beings.
Rowan is written and treated as a helpless waif – a pattern with Sala, who tends to write her women as childlike victims instead of giving them experience and agency. In Rowan it’s even worse, as she seems to have absolutely no knowledge in that brain of hers. She doesn’t know the value of the land, or how to farm. She exists in general to be taken care of, and never develops a spine of her own. She’s nice, which is well and good, but that’s all she is or seems to do – walk around being nice while trying to figure out how to live.
Bowie feels like a stock tough guy with a tender center – the latter of which I appreciated. He’s decent and he goes around performing heroics and inspiring others to be brave, and at least compared to Rowan, is a decently-drawn character. But he’s so tragically dull!
There’s a lot of heavy angst and hurt-comfort in this romance; after all, Bowie is struggling with the fact that he’s the result of rape and his mother admitted to not wanting him alive, nor wanting to live herself. Rowan is messed up from her father’s emotional abuse, as well as being extremely sheltered. They seem more like two teenagers being kind to one another instead of passionate lovers, and I couldn’t really grasp hold of their emotional connection.
The plot is stock, and its characters’ reactions to it ridiculous. I laughed involuntarily at the contrivance of Bowie’s old enemies hanging around at the local diner, waiting for Bowie to show up so they could beat him up with bats. Did they have a huddle while he was eating the best biscuits he’d ever had? I also had no idea why the Boones were so invested in their reputations, since they were rednecks often in jail, with no real influence in town, but found it odd that the author tried to reform them. Jud beat Bowie’s head in when he was a teenager for the simple sin of being a product of rape; it was hard to see Jud (Randall’s father) as redeemed, no matter how intensely the narrative tried to make it work. I know it’s difficult to accept that your kid is a rapist, but when evidence provides, then evidence you must accept.
I can characterize the way the book’s written with one word – weakly. There are massive lumps of telling and not showing in this narrative, such as the way the heroine is introduced.
Twenty-five year old Rowan Harper, the girl kneeling at Pearl’s feet, was also a hurricane survivor who had lost everything.
There are a million different ways to show this – have her standing in a threadbare room with the other hurricane survivors, have her mention her birthday offhand. Instead we get information that reads like back cover copy. Dialogue is also atrociously wooden, featuring passages like
“But Bowie, it is the way of a woman. She suffers pain, but only for a moment when she is first taken, so that she may have a life of pleasure until she takes her last breath. The ecstasy of love is her gift, to make up for the pain of giving birth.”
I don’t need to tell you that real people don’t speak this way.
A Rainbow Above Us is unfortunately not a good example of what Sharon Sala can do at the peak of her powers. At the end of this rainbow is fool’s gold.