Thursday, February 28, 2013

Openly Straight

Openly Straight
Bill Konigsberg
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013
$17.99, Hardcover

Genre: Realistic, School Story, Humor
Age: 14+
Description: Sophomore Rafe is a pretty normal teen living in Boulder, Colorado. He likes soccer and skiing and writing. However, ever since eighth grade he’s been known more so for one particular thing—being the gay guy. That was the year that he decided to come out to his parents and luckily for him they accepted him and so did everyone else in town. The problem is his mom accepted him a bit too much and suddenly made Rafe the gay spokesman of the state. He’s decided he needs a change and is headed to New England to an all boys’ boarding school where, unbeknownst to his parents, he will became “openly straight” as, for once, he’d just like to be one of the guys and not the gay guy. He has a whole plan for how he is going to keep his sexuality a secret. He’s not going back in the closet; he’s just going to not mention that there ever was a closet he came out of. He’d like the chance to make friends with guys his own age without the gay moniker attached to his name. However, he does have to deal with confessing his plan to his parents when they visit for family night, to his best friend who all his new friends think is his girlfriend-girlfriend, and an English teacher who knows his secret because his mother contacted him about their local GSA group. Luckily for him, his teacher promises not to expose him as long as he writes about his decision for his long-term English project. What Rafe doesn’t expect is the fact that he gets roped into the sporty crowd—all of whom don’t seem open to homosexuality. He soon finds himself happier to hang out with his weird roommate and his (gay) best friend and Ben, a sensitive jock, who just might or might not be gay himself and who Rafe might or might not be falling in love with.
Opinion: While I felt that Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom was one of the best GLBT books of 2012, I think Openly Straight is going to be one of the best of 2013. First of all, this book is hilarious. Secondly, I think it is a realistic portrayal of teenage love. When Ben discovers that Rafe wasn’t discovering his potential bi-sexuality alongside himself, he gets angry at Rafe for lying. At first, Rafe can’t really see what he has done wrong and all of his friends seem to condemn him for his plan to not be openly gay. I really felt for Rafe because I could understand where he was coming from—I think his friends where being too harsh. Yes, he probably should have told Ben before things went too far that he may have been interested in some boys before if he didn’t want to be completely open but at the same time I feel for how Rafe really just wanted to start over. He didn’t really see what could have gone wrong and he certainly didn’t set out to hurt anyone A note for those with conservative readers—Rafe isn’t a virgin (we learn in his essay for English how he lost his virginity to another boy in Boulder) and Rafe and Ben eventually engage in sexual activity culminating in sex. While it’s not graphic there isn’t much innuendo either (for example, we are there in a scene where Rafe gives Ben a hand job, gets excited, and prematurely comes). However, for readers who are open and accepting of GLBT people the scenes are done tastefully and lovingly. Overall, it is a very funny and heartwarming tale about a boy just trying to find love.  

Here's what one of my teens had to say:

Katie, 14, says, “Honestly, I don’t get the cover. I really liked all the different life lessons hidden between the lines of the story. It really helps make the book. I didn’t really enjoy the little writings to the teacher in between the flow of the story. Other than that, it was a pretty good book. I was pleasantly surprised. It was also really, really funny.”

*Thanks to Candace Greene at Scholastic for providing an ARC of this title for the YA Galley Group project!*

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