{Review} Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

{Review}  Openly Straight by Bill KonigsbergOpenly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books on May 28, 2013
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: Arthur A. Levine Books
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4.5 Stars

The award-winning novel about being out, being proud, and being ready for something else . . . now in paperback.

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 break 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 feeling different, fitting in, and what it means to be himself

Openly Straight is the multiple award-winning YA book by Bill Konigsberg. If you’re a fan of David Levithan or John Greene, (and why wouldn’t you be?!) chances are you will love this book. But, even more telling than that, even if you’ve never read a book by either of them, or an LGBTQ book ever, you will love this book. Or, even MORE importantly, this book will stay with you for a long time.

The 411:

Openly Straight is about labels. Why we have them, what we do to lose them, and what happens to us in the process of finding out. It’s about the difference between acceptance and tolerance and why the difference between the two is SO very important. It’s about friendship and being true to yourself.

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What We Loved:

First and foremost—the premise. Do we really need to label someone? Rafe is gay, everyone knows this. His parents love him unconditionally and their support borders on obsessive. His mom is the PFLAG president for goodness sakes! His BFF, Claire Olivia, is his partner in crime and has been for as long as Rafe can remember. He lives in Denver, the son of two ex-hippies, where most everyone he comes in contact with is laid back to the point of comedy. Rafe’s parents had party hats for his “coming out” if that gives you any indication. But the thing is, Rafe is tired of being known as “the gay guy”, he really wants to be just Rafe, with no label, so he decides that he’s going to switch schools and moves all the way to New England where he can be exactly that. No labels, no pre-conceived ideas of who he should be or how he should act, he’s going to be known as simply Rafe. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? We mean, who doesn’t want that, to be able to meet and hang out with friends and not be known as the gay guy, only a guy?

Finally, here it was. My chance for a do-over. Here at Natick, I could be just Rafe. Not crazy Gavin and Opal’s colorful son. Not the “different” guy on the soccer team. Not the openly gay kid who had it all figured out.

So Rafe reinvents himself. He’s friends with the jocks, he goes to parties, he’s on the soccer team, and no one knows he’s gay. His parents don’t understand, Claire Olivia doesn’t get it, but Rafe is certain that he knows what he’s doing. And it’s all good … until it’s not.

Can you just put a part of yourself on hold? And if you do, does it cease to be true?

How was I expecting to get closer to someone by not being truly me?

What else we liked was Mr. Scarborough. His challenge to Rafe to write his down his feelings as his “experiment” progresses was a way for the reader to really gain some valuable insight into Rafe’s thought processes and motivations. And this is our favorite quote by Mr. Scarborough and really one of the most important themes of the entire book.

“It’s hard to be different,” Scarborough said. “And perhaps the best answer is not to tolerate differences, not even to accept them. But to celebrate them. Maybe then those who are different would feel more loved, and less, well, tolerated.”

Powerful stuff, that.

Konigsberg’s writing is real and honest and refreshing. There were plenty of moments that brought smiles, but on the flip-side there were just as many that challenged us to think and evaluate. The friendship/bromance that develops between Rafe and Ben is beautiful and raw, and as they get closer and closer Rafe’s struggle to be honest with himself and with Ben was painful and downright uncomfortable at times, but it was that conflict that kept us turning the page to find out what would happen.

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Um...Not So Much:

There was one particular thing we didn’t love but we can’t tell you what it is without spoiling anything so you’re just gonna have to read Openly Straight and find out.

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The Boys:

Seamus Rafael (Rafe) Goldberg is a pretty typical 16 year old boy with parents that embarrass him and make him cringe. Sure he knows he’s lucky to have parents that let him pick up and move across the country to go to school without really telling them why (which he does after he gets to Natick in what we thought was a very poignant scene) but that doesn’t mean he loves everything about them. We’ll be honest, there were times in the book where it was REALLY hard to like Rafe. We mean, he was lying to EVERYONE, and yeah, sure, we get the why but still. On the other hand, it’s that WHY that made us root for him in the first place. He truly just wants to be Rafe and how can you argue with that. It’s this back and forth struggle that’s the heart of the book.

I was going to be label-free. Don’t ask, and I won’t tell. The only way I would actually lie was if I were asked directly, “Are you gay?” In that case, I’d say no. But even then I wouldn’t go on about being straight. I didn’t want to lie; I just wanted to not be the guy whose main attribute was liking other guys. Been there, done that.

It’s hard to argue with the sentiment but as he grows closer and closer to Ben (and to Albie and Toby) it’s the dichotomy of being true to yourself, which requires telling everyone HE IS GAY, with not want to be labeled as gay that is the entire crux of the book.

Swoon Factor 8 on the Swoonometer™ at Swoony Boys Podcast

Ben Carver: Since Openly Straight is told strictly from Rafe’s POV it was harder to get to know Ben, but what we did learn, we loved. He’s quiet, honorable, sweet, and a really good friend. The late-night talks these two have are touching and their bromance is truly wonderful. Theirs isn’t even a sexual relationship, it’s definitely much deeper than that.

We looked at each other again, as if we were both asking permission, permission to talk, permission to be open. It seemed crazy to me, given how we talked about everything.

He said, “Part of it means what I said. I love you. You love me. We love each other.”

“Right,” I said.

He went on, “The Greeks were smarter than us, and they had different words for different kinds of love. There’s storge, which is family love. That’s not us. There’s eros, which is sexual love. There’s philia, which is brotherly love. And then there’s the highest form. Agape.” He pronounced it “aga-pay.” “That’s transcendental love, like when you place the other person above yourself.”

“You are so going to get into Harvard.”

He laughed. “So, obviously our friendship is to some degree philia.”

“Like pedophilia or necrophilia?”

“That’s disgusting,” he said. “But, yeah, same root, I guess.”

I nodded.

“And I don’t know about eros. I guess that’s the part I mean by ‘I don’t know.’ I mean, for me, my eros has always been pointed toward girls.”

“Girls like that,” I said. “Me too.”

“I guess I’d like to think of what we have as agape. A higher love. Something that transcends. Something not about sex or brotherhood but about two people truly connecting.”

That was the thing about Ben. He could get away with saying shit like that. I totally couldn’t. I wasn’t big or masculine enough. In my mind, anyway. But Ben could get allagape on your ass, and you’d just sit there like, huh. Agape. Interesting.

“Agape,” I said. “I like that.”

A smile crept across his face. “Me too.”

“So we’re not … aga-gay?”

He laughed. “I knew you were thinking that. I guess I sort of was too. You know what, Rafe? If I was ever gonna be aga-gay with anyone, it would be you.”

Swoon Factor 8 on the Swoonometer™ at Swoony Boys Podcast

The bromance … it’s EPIC!

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What We Think Will Happen Next:

Well, Bill Konigsberg announced just recently that there WILL be a sequel, and this time it’ll be told from Ben’s POV which is the best news ever. After that ending, we are DYING to find out what Ben thinks of everything.

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Bottom Line:

Though the ending might not be what everyone wishes for, this book is wonderful and poignant and touching. Even the parts that make you squirm and maybe even a little angry are potent and important. Labels are powerful things and this is a must read for everyone.

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