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Satanic Panic Depicted in Thriller ‘Rainbow Black’ Feels Strikingly Relevant to the Present

If there’s one word I could use to describe Maggie Thrash’s books, I’d use “tormented.” Why? Because “dark and twisty” doesn’t quite cover it.

I fell in love with Thrash’s work when I read her YA graphic memoir Honor Girl. I started following her on social media, which took me through a tunnel that felt not unlike Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. All of her work has the element of yearning that feels like the character is being tortured by their mere existence, but on the outside, they seem like a perfectly normal person. This remains true in her first adult novel, Rainbow Black.

Rainbow Black tells the story of Lacey Bond over most of her adolescent and adult life. The story starts in New Hampshire in 1983 when Lacey is just a little kid and her older sister Éclair teaches her an important lesson: “If you have a secret, you’re fucked.” This is a lesson Lacey learns over and over again for the rest of her life.

We jump ahead five years to 1988 when an incident at a drive-in movie leaves Lacey skeptical of her parents for the first time in her life. Her parents are a unique couple; they fell in love at Woodstock and have a 24 year age gap. Her father got her mother pregnant when she was only 14-years-old, and she gave birth to Éclair. Now, they have a small farm and run an in-home daycare called Rainbow Kids. It’s thanks to their daycare that Lacey’s life gets completely turned upside down.

It’s 1990, and the Satanic panic is tearing its way across the United States. Suddenly 13-year-old Lacey’s parents are arrested, leaving her and Éclair to fend for themselves. Their house and farm are raided by police trying to find evidence that the Bonds were forcing the hundreds of toddlers and preschoolers who had come through the doors of Rainbow Kids to perform perverted sex acts and Satanic rituals. Lacey’s parents are accused of dozens of counts of truly depraved things. Even though life goes on, nothing is ever the same after that.

While reading, I spent a few hours reading up on the Satanic panic and related cases. Taking place mostly in the 80s, there were over 12,000 cases of unsubstantiated Satanic ritual abuse that were “uncovered” through recovered memory therapy, a practice that has been largely discredited. It was mainly a moral panic that spread like wildfire and created conspiracy theories that people, mainly children, were being used to perform Satanic rituals and were being physically or sexually abused. The children’s memories of these heinous acts were “recovered” through recovered memory therapy, but many of their confessions or “memories” were coerced out of them by psychologists, lawyers and cops who were trying to make a case against the people they were accusing.

A lot of the people accused were people who ran home daycare centers, much like Lacey’s parents did. One of the most famous cases at the time was the McMartin preschool trial, which is directly referenced in Rainbow Black. It focused on a Los Angeles county home daycare and cost the city $15,000,000; there were no convictions.

Thrash’s choosing of this very specific moment in American history immediately reminded me of the moral panic that has been sweeping the country in the last eight-ish years. As we rightfully reexamine the powerful men who committed horrific acts of sexual abuse, the 4chan and far right conspiracies that have popped up are alarmingly similar to the Satanic panic, except now we have Reddit forums and Twitter and not just conversations behind semi-closed doors. Conspiracies like Pizzagate and QAnon have taken off and fuel even bigger and more harmful theories that children are in danger from the powerful and elite, but also the LGBTQ+ community. The Save the Children movement started in the 70s to “save” children from queer people, and has been revived in recent years.

While much of our current moral panic has its claws in the queer community, it was pointed in the 80s and 90s. The queerness in Rainbow Black isn’t directly tied to the court case in the story, even though people in their small New Hampshire town do mock Lacey’s British dad, calling him a “fag” because of his European manner. But Lacey’s sexuality is weaponized against her often in relation to the case. She meets with a psychologist who tries to exploit Lacey’s growing crush on her to get Lacey to confess that she has repressed memories of her parents abusing her and other children in their care. Lawyers will tell her that she dresses too “dykey” and that by not wearing dresses, she is seen as other and not sympathetic. Her queerness is just another thing that sets her apart from her peers, even though having parents in jail would be enough.

Lacey suffers a tragic loss while her parents are in jail that alters her life even further, and she finds herself in the care of the state and in a group home. There, she meets Destiny, a trans girl. It turns out Lacey knew Destiny earlier in life: She was her only real friend as a kid and through her ostracization when her parents were first arrested. Lacey continues to deadname Destiny as she tells the story but defends her trans identity to anyone who tries to invalidate it. Thrash handles Destiny’s transition as a matter of fact. This is happening in the 90s, a time where transgender people were treated as a sideshow spectacle for the mainstream media, and it’s interesting that not only is Destiny not treated this way by those around her, but most people are wholly accepting of her. The girls are separated when Destiny is adopted by her birth father, but another shockingly tragic situation bonds them together again.

Much of Lacey’s adulthood is marred by the belief you can outrun your past, which she finds out isn’t true. She and Destiny have adopted wholly new identities to get away from the horrible thing they did as children, but the truth is always lurking. Eventually Lacey, or Jo as she’s known, decides she can’t keep outrunning her past. She has to face up to what she did and face the consequences, or they will continue to haunt her for the rest of her life. So much happens in this book, and it never feels like too much. You really have to play a game of connect the dots, but that’s what keeps it interesting. I can totally see this as a movie that has you constantly pausing to process what just happened.

Throughout Rainbow Black, Lacey Bond is portrayed as nothing remarkable. You wouldn’t even look twice at her on the street. And yet, she is carrying around years of torment and tumult that would have shaken most people to their core. She’s absolutely tormented and tortured by what she’s had to endure but somehow manages to keep up the appearance of someone who has it totally together. As people do find out her past, it’s beyond surprising because she never lets on that she’s endured some truly heinous experiences.

Creating characters like Lacey is what Thrash does best. She takes a character who seems unremarkable and throws them into the deep end, left to fend for themselves in a swirling pit of torment as despair. And even though they shouldn’t, they somehow always manage to keep going forward.

Rainbow Black by Maggie Thrash is out now.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 121 articles for us.


  1. How would you describe the genre of Rainbow Black? Is it more psychological drama or more leaning towards thriller? I know those genres can intertwine but I am wondering what is the main theme here. Based on your description I think it is a tragedy and psychological drama. Perhaps we should validate a new genre: torment.

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