Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Virtual Tour + #Giveaway: She's Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci @GoddessFish

She's Like a Rainbow
by Eileen Colucci
GENRE: Young Adult Magical Realism


“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.”

So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it?  As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York.

Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to teens as well as adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.

Author’s Mission Statement: It is my hope that SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW will promote peace and understanding among people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. My aim is to stimulate discussion on everything we have in common as human beings regardless of our particular heritage. We are all connected.


We were not very strict Muslims. We did not pray five times a day, nor did we go to Mosque every Friday (though we did attend on all the Aids or Holy Days, to celebrate the Sacrifice of Abraham, the end of Ramadan, and such). Zakia and I emulated Mother and did not cover our heads. As she got older, Mother took to praying and began to wear a head scarf whenever she went out, removing it at home, leaving it on in her shop. She did not insist that we begin wearing one however. Since Zakia and I went to the French Mission schools, we did not receive religious instruction as part of the regular curriculum like our cousins who went to Moroccan schools did. To fill this gap, Mother hired a tutor who came once a week to teach us the Koran and to supplement the mediocre Arabic lessons provided at school.

Mother had several copies of the Koran. There was one, wrapped in gift paper that she kept in her room. I had come upon the sealed package one day when I was about seven and, not knowing what was inside, I had torn the golden wrapping to have a peek. Afterward, when I’d asked Mother why she kept an old Koran that was falling apart, she had scolded me severely and boxed my ears. She told me that Father had brought the holy book back from the Haj and had carefully wrapped it in order to preserve it.

Needless to say, we did not use this book for our lessons. Instead, Haj Brahim (he was addressed as “Haj” because he, like Father, had made the pilgrimage to Mecca) would take down the large, heavy Koran from the top shelf in the book case and try to help us understand the verses. When this failed, he would settle for having us memorize them.

Not content to just recite the words without understanding their meaning, I had convinced Mother to buy a version that had the Arabic on the left side with the French translation on the right. This was the book that I used for my private prayers and to search for an explanation for my multiple transformations.

I was not having much success however and decided I must talk to Haj Brahim about it. I didn’t want to ask him in front of Zakia, so I would have to choose my moment carefully.

One afternoon, Haj Brahim showed up a little early for our lesson. Mother showed him into the sitting room and asked Naima to make some tea. Zakia was having a shower because she had participated in a race at school that day (that she’d lost, of course). Seizing the opportunity, I slipped into the room and gently closed the door.

Haj Brahim was a portly man, in his sixties and decidedly bald. He was an old acquaintance of Father’s who had helped Mother settle the inheritance after Father died. Mother was in a predicament as a widow with only daughters. In the absence of a male heir, Father’s three brothers had tried to wrest as much as they could, but Haj, who was an expert in Islamic law and connected to one of the Mosques in Rabat, had made sure that Mother’s rights, however limited, were protected. (Those rights would have been even more limited had Father not already taken several precautions while still alive, such as putting many of the deeds and wealth in Mother’s name.)

I cleared my throat and Haj, who sat leaning back on the sofa with his hands folded in his lap, looked over at me and smiled. As always, he wore a little white skull cap that he only removed now. I began hesitatingly to describe my problem. Haj must have been aware of my transformations as he’d been giving us lessons since I was nine and still “Reema, The Palest One of All.” He had never mentioned anything about my “condition” though. He listened carefully as I timidly described my tormenters at school, mother’s failure to sympathize, and my personal doubts as to God’s role in all this. I stopped abruptly when Naima brought the tea and placed the tray in front of me.

Using the knitted mitt, I grasped the silver teapot and poured some tea into one of the crystal glasses. Then, I poured the tea back in the pot and served us both. I glanced at the clock. Zakia would be coming in any minute and my chance would be lost. Haj nodded subtly, as if he understood my urgency, and went to get the Koran from the shelf. He put on his reading glasses, then took them off and wiped them with the cloth napkin that Naima had given him.

He paused before putting them on again and recited to me, “’Endure with patience, for your endurance is not without the help of God.’ God presents us all with different challenges, Reema. You must have patience and His wisdom will be revealed to you. All in good time.”

“But, why Haj? Why is God doing this? Making my skin change color all the time like I’m some kind of freak. What have I done wrong?”

Without answering, he opened the book to the very end and read me a verse:
As time passes,
Everyone suffers loss
Except those who believe
and do good deeds and urge one another to be true
and to bear with courage the trials that befall them.

I could hear Zakia coming down the stairs. I quickly noted the page so that I could go back to it later.

Haj closed the book and said softly to me, “You are young, Reema. What seems like a great ‘trial’ today may not seem so terrible later on. You are a good girl. Just be brave – and patient.”

He patted me lightly on my hand. Somehow, it did not feel patronizing or dismissive. The butterfly touch of his fingers gave me hope.

Interview with Eileen Colucci

What inspired you to write SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW?

A major theme running through the novel is the legend of the White Buffalo. This legend was actually the inspiration for the story. I read an article about Miracle, a white buffalo calf that was born on a South Dakota farm to black/brown parents. I learned that white buffalos are very rare but that, due to some strange phenomenon, other species, such as tigers, whales and turtles, were also experiencing white young being born. The white buffalo calf would not remain white, but would turn various colors – black, yellow, red and finally brown. Some Native American tribes believe that Miracle and other white buffalo are sacred and symbolize all the different races of humanity. 

As I was reading, an idea was born. What if a human baby was born white to black parents? What if her skin repeatedly changed color as the legend of the White Buffalo played out on the human stage? From these questions, Reema’s story grew.

As with my first novel, SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW is also inspired by my Mission Statement: I hope that my books will promote peace and understanding among people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. My aim is to stimulate discussion on everything we have in common as human beings regardless of our particular heritage. We are all connected.

Can you tell us a little bit about the next books or what you have planned for the future?

SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW is not the first book of a series. It stands alone. I am hoping to start working soon on my third novel, but I am waiting for inspiration. In the meantime, I am planning to write some essays for publication. I am working on one now about having my dear father’s vintage Gibson guitar restored more than forty years after he died.

Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW?

SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW is magical realism. As such, I had a lot of freedom creating the characters. They are totally made up unlike in my first novel, THE STRINGS OF THE LUTE, which is about a mixed Moroccan-American couple and, while fiction, is loosely based on my own experiences.

Reema, the main character and narrator of the story, and her friends and family are Moroccan. I hope that my readers will find their voices authentic. Although Reema is Moroccan, she experiences many of the things all teenagers, regardless of their ethnicity, go through: alienation, anxiety, identity crisis, and just plain wishing to be “normal” and like everyone else. The challenges that Reema faces are similar to those that confront any young person. Her changing skin tones could be compared to a disability or any condition (underweight or overweight, for example) that causes a person to feel like an outsider and to be the object of ridicule and bullying.

Among the other characters are Reema’s mother, Lalla Jamila, who is very strict with her and treats her differently than her younger sister, Zakia. Reema seeks comfort with her two best friends and classmates, Batoul, a Moroccan girl, and Khalil, a Dutch-Moroccan boy.  The three are inseparable. As Reema struggles with her strange skin condition and the trials of adolescence, her friendship with Khalil turns to first love, threatening her friendship with Batoul.

As Reema matures, she comes to terms with her skin color and her ethnicity. She says on page 171, “If my transformations had taught me anything it was that my ethnicity was literally not skin-deep. Over the years, I had always kept my “Moroccan-ness”: it was in the food I ate and the way I ate it; in my beliefs and prejudices; in my very being thanks to my upbringing and daily environment. No matter what my physical attributes might be … I would always be Moroccan.” In this respect, Reema strives to “feel good in her own skin,” something we can all relate to, no matter our culture or heritage.

You know I think we all have a favorite author. Who is your favorite author and why?

This is a hard one because there are so many “favorites.” But, if I had to choose one it would be J.D. Salinger, author of my favorite book of all time, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. For me, this is the ultimate coming of age story: a teenager, grappling with the death of a sibling and fearful of losing his sister, reaches a crisis, flees the school from which he has been expelled, and goes on a road trip. As he tries to make sense of his life, Holden Caulfield epitomizes teenage angst and alienation and does so with much humor. When I first read CATCHER for school, I was a teenager like Holden and totally identified with him and his disdain for all the “phonies” out there. Many years later, my teenage son was reading it for school and I picked it up and reread it. It was a totally different book. This time I identified with Holden’s mother (who was mostly absent from the actual narrative), experiencing it as the parent of a troubled child, my heart going out to him and wanting to absorb his pain. A while ago, I purchased a digital copy of this book (my paperback copy having nearly disintegrated) so I could always have it and reread it at will.

I would just like to mention my favorite poet, Khalil Gibran, author of THE PROPHET. He is a constant inspiration for me (the epigraph and title for my first novel are from one of his poems) and source of comfort.

If you could time-travel would you travel to the future or the past? Where would you like to go and why would you like to visit this particular time period?

I would like to travel back to New York in 1951 and meet J.D. Salinger for coffee. We would talk about his book, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, which was just published. I have so many questions I would like to ask him, such as which writers influenced his work and which ones he most admired. The question I could not ask him though because it would be reaching into the future is why he stopped publishing novels after CATCHER. He did release some short story collections before he stopped publishing definitively and it is rumored that he wrote as many as five other novels in his later years. But, I would like to know why he did not share them with us. Did he fear they were not good enough? Was the success of CATCHER too much to live up to? Salinger was an infamous recluse and I don’t know if he would even want to go for coffee with me. But, as in the Woody Allen movie, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, it is a writer’s dream to meet up with legendary authors and just sit and chat with them like ordinary people. Just like the protagonist in that film though, I would remain in that time period only long enough to get to know my literary idol and then return to the present. 

Do you have any little fuzzy friends? Like a dog or a cat? Or any pets?

I have a three and a half year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever named Phoebo. Since his name is so unusual, I’d like to explain its origin. The son of a friend of mine has a female chocolate Labrador that I got to know when staying with them and her name is Phoebe. My husband and I thought of her when we got our puppy and since he was a male we changed the last letter to “o.”  Phoebo loves playing Frisbee (he catches it in his mouth), having his belly rubbed and eating treats. Growing up, I was afraid of dogs at one point and allergic to them at another. Fortunately, I outgrew those issues and love spending time with Phoebo. He is as great a comfort as Khalil Gibran.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us today.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

A native New Yorker, Eileen Colucci has been living in Rabat with her Moroccan husband for the past thirty-plus years. She is a former teacher and recently retired after twenty-eight years as a translator with the U.S. Embassy, Rabat. Her articles and short stories have appeared in various publications and ezines including Fodor's Morocco, Parents' Press, The New Dominion and Expat Women. SHE'S LIKE A RAINBOW, which was recently published, is her second novel.

Colucci holds a BA in French and English from the University at Albany and an MA in Education from Framingham State University.

When not writing, Colucci enjoys practicing yoga, taking long walks and playing with her chocolate Labrador Retriever, Phoebo. Now that she and her husband have four grandchildren, they spend as much time as possible in Virginia with their two sons and their families.

Buy links:

Amazon Kindle ~ Paperback

Barnes and Noble Paperback


$10 Amazon or B/N GC

Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning.


Eileen Colucci said...

Thanks so much for hosting me, Nancy. I appreciate your support!

Eileen Colucci said...

Thanks, James. Hope you enjoy the book!

Eileen Colucci said...

Thanks for reading, Lisa. Hope you enjoy the book!

Victoria Alexander said...

Great post! :)

Eileen Colucci said...

Thanks for reading, Victoria!

Bernie Wallace said...

Who is your favorite literary character of all time? Thanks for the giveaway. I hope that I win. Bernie W BWallace1980(at)hotmail(d0t)com

Mary Preston said...

A great interview thank you.

Eileen Colucci said...

Hi, Joseph! My favorite character is Holden Caulfield from my favorite book of all time, The Catcher in the Rye. For me, Holden is the quintessential young adult.

Eileen Colucci said...

Hi, Mary! Thanks for reading.

Jodi Hunter said...

Sounds Incredible!

katieoscarlet said...

I like the premise. Wouldn't it be awesome (and frightening) to have your skin change ever so often? Looking forward to reading.

Eileen Colucci said...

Hi, Jodi! Thanks for reading.

Eileen Colucci said...

Hi, Katieoscarlet! Thanks for your interest and hope you enjoy the book.

Eileen Colucci said...

Thanks, Gwendolyn!