Review: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Openly Straight
Author: Bill Konigsberg
Genre: YA Contemporary
Released: May 2013
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★

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Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

I’d came across Openly Straight a while back, and kind of forgot about it (like I usually do). But once I’d seen its cover again while looking for books to review for LGBT month, I decided to go for it after reminding myself of what the book is about, which I found to be pretty interesting and different, compared to other books I’ve read this month. While I did enjoy reading Openly Straight, I felt that it could have been just that bit better.

Openly Straight is about Rafe, an openly gay guy who transfers to an all-boys boarding school and decides to keep his sexuality a secret after being tired of being known only as “the gay kid”. The book’s plot is definitely what attracted me to it in the first place because it seemed like such an interesting idea that is pretty plausible at the same time. I could totally understand why Rafe did what he did, but at the same time he really shouldn’t have done it because he was not only being dishonest with his peers, but he was being dishonest with himself too. Openly Straight is told from Rafe’s point of view, which I really enjoyed reading. He was funny, witty, and even kind of sassy at times, which made the narrative feel like natural speech. My main problem with the story is that I thought it took just a little bit too long for the shit to hit the fan. I knew something was going to happen, but it was just a matter of waiting for it and I thought that I waited just a little bit too long.

I loved the characters of Openly Straight and thought that they were definitely the best part of the book. Rafe was a great main character, and I could find very few faults with him. His character was very natural and didn’t seem forced at any point; he was just a regular guy and there wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary about him, which really showed that gay people are just normal people who are getting on with their lives. Even though he had kooky hippie parents who made an unnecessarily big deal about his sexuality, he just saw it as something he couldn’t control because that’s just nature. As for Ben, though, I had mixed feelings about him. For the vast majority of the book he was a likeable guy and seemed like a genuinely good friend, but towards the end he did a complete 180 and went cold all of a sudden, and this just rubbed me the wrong way. In fact, this turn-around made me like Rafe even more, which is a little odd.

I managed to get two messages from Openly Straight, both of them addressing LGBT issues. The first I got is that people who are out should be proud to be out, despite all of the stereotypes that there are about gay people and the fact that some people are unfortunately only known for their sexuality. This was the second message: we shouldn’t define people by who they like. It’s a natural thing that people shouldn’t make such a big deal about. I understand that it’s a very brave thing to come out but there are people who fuss over it way too much and treat them as only the gay kid, or the lesbian, or the transperson, which just isn’t fair. There are many more things about a person that could possibly define them than something completely natural.

Overall, I liked Openly Straight, but it could have been more, if that makes sense. It took a little bit too long for things to go sour, and then once it did I got just a little bit lost to the point that I couldn’t really remember what had happened. But, apart from that, I liked Rafe and his narration, which made reading this book pretty fun.

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