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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg True Colorz Honor Roll

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
341 Pages

Blurb: A funny, honest novel about being out, being proud...and being ready for something else.

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.

This witty, smart, coming-out-again story will appeal to gay and straight kids alike as they watch Rafe navigate being different, fitting in, and what it means to be himself.

“That’s when I felt it.

One thin finger. Gently touching my thigh.

I kept talking about how alpha loses two protons and two neutrons, like his finger wasn’t on my thigh. And I think he liked that, because he kept asking questions, as if his finger weren’t on my thigh.

Nobody had ever touched me that way before, and even though my mouth kept motoring, I felt a little bit under a wave, maybe, water rushing everywhere and the shock of chill and the sound. It was almost deafening, the sound of us not talking about it, and I loved the dizziness it gave me.”
Review: I found it easy to relate to Rafe. Who hasn’t thought about getting away from it all and making a fresh start somewhere new? Rafe knows he’s fortunate to have family and friends who accept him for who he is. He knows he’s lucky to live in a community where he can be openly gay without fear of harassment. But he’s also feeling smothered by the label, as if it’s the only thing people see when they look at him. He wants his sexuality to be a non-issue, so he decides to move to a private boarding school on the other side of the country and reinvent himself. He doesn’t want to be straight. He just wants to not be gay for a while, so people will get to know the real him.

His plan seems to be working. He makes new friends right away. On his first day, he’s invited to join in a pickup game of touch football, and manages to do all right. That seems to be all it takes to be accepted into the jock crowd, and he loves the feeling of being “one of the guys”. The trouble is, as time goes by, he finds that in order to fit in, he has to deny the truth more and more, and one little white lie compounds into major heartache. I loved the progression from Rafe being in a position early on where he seems to have gotten everything he’s wanted to one where he slowly discovers the flaw in his plan. Ironically, he does what he does so that people will look past the label and get to know the real him, but the “him” they get to know isn’t the real him.

Throughout his experiment, Rafe keeps a journal, in which he reflects upon who he is, where he came from, and why he’s doing what he’s doing. With some careful prodding from his English teacher, he slowly realizes what the label “gay” means to him. Rafe learns a lot about himself over the course of the semester, and he comes to appreciate his family and friends in a new light as well.

So what is the lesson to be learned here? Just be yourself? It’s not that simple. Had Rafe not hidden the fact that he was gay, would he ever have gotten close to Ben? Is he better or worse off for that? This is a story worthy of further reflection once that last page has been turned. The message seems to be “embrace the gay”. You can’t be a whole, healthy, happy person if you deny that part of who you are. But at the same time, the message seems to be “quit making such a big deal about it.” A person shouldn’t be defined by his/her sexuality alone. In an ideal world, people won’t have to “come out”; being gay will just be another attribute.

The blurb says this book will appeal to both gay and straight kids, and I whole-heartedly agree. The book’s main theme is about the power of labels. Anyone can relate to that. It offers a poignant look at how we perceive not only other people in our lives, but also how we perceive ourselves.

Review by Madison

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