Archie Maverick Albright, the 12-year-old narrator of the book Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean (Simon & Schuster, 2021), has secrets to tell. But before that, he wants you to be ready for the gossip, his family secrets, to ‘double-check’ if anyone is behind you, and look over your shoulders, as he knows that people “are all very curious,” which is to say that they “don’t know how to mind their own business.”
A sheer joyride, filled with exquisite artwork and illustrations by Sandhya Prabhat, Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow plays its part in filling a major gap in the publishing industry when it comes to queer literature: LGBT+ themed books for children.
Archie is the only child of his parents, who, because of some visible differences, have separated. Though Archie has a sense of their off-tuned relationship, he doesn’t know anything beyond that.
The parents’ quibble is part of a larger dissonance, which reaches its zenith at a parents-teachers’ meet, where they embarrass Archie in front of his teachers and friends. Disturbed and annoyed by this, Archie refuses to share the ride back home with any of his parents, but later, upon his return, he ends up hearing something he should not have.
The way the adults handle this situation in this story is striking, reminding me of A Little Prince’s kind of commentary by teenagers—Archie and his friends—on adults: escapism that adults exercise toward things worth addressing, which Archie calls “conversational dance.”
The secret reveal shakes up characters in this book for sure, as they would in any queer narrative, but not in an unruly, dramatic way. All credits go to the author’s craft, which is the key here that makes this story mature in its telling. Dean renders a distinct quirk and appeal to his teenaged characters, making this story a compelling read, and at the same time steers away from the histrionics—the shock and awe—that is often associated with coming out and queer stories.
The book not only addresses deeply sensitive issues with care but also supplies them with humour. The best incidents occur on the day when the children decide to go to attend the London pride parade. Bell almost blurts out about their secret escape and Archie reveals the 2 locations for the pool party to his parents. Seb, who worries a lot and tends to go by the rulebook, was sure that they’ll get caught but goes with them anyway.
If you’ve attended a pride parade, then I am sure that, given the ongoing pandemic, you are bound to experience nostalgia. The description is not only overwhelming but is full of queer innuendos and hilarious stuff that can only happen during a pride parade, or I would like to believe so. For example, when these teenagers meet a couple, one of the partners introduced himself as Penny to the children, to which his boyfriend responds: “MICHAEL! They are kids. How about you just give them your real name.” I could not control my laughter reading this.
The crux of Archie’s story is “that Pride is all about family, both the ones you’re given and the ones you make,” which is why I believe that this book is sure to find and expand its family of readers.
No good book, however, is beyond criticism and I have one for this title: the language, though used matter-of-factly, because it is from the children’s viewpoints, often slips into telling the story from a heteronormative gaze. Seb explaining everything the alphabetic soup is composed of to Archie irked me. Archie, upon the mention of ‘+’ in LGBT+ says: “We’re doing maths now?” Nonetheless, it is an engaging and compelling read. And though the story is based in the UK, the book need not be contextualised for the Indian readers, which is a huge +!