Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Openly Straight

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (2013)

Rafe has been openly gay for a while now. His parents are supportive, his friends are supportive, he's a member of the GSA and has even spoken publicly at high schools about being a gay teen. But after a while he started feeling like every time anyone looked at him all they saw was GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY and, even worse, that's all he started seeing when he looked in the mirror. So now he's leaving Boulder, CO for a boarding school in Natick, MA where he will reinvent himself as a straight kid. Not because he's ashamed of who he is - he's not - but because he just wants to leave the baggage behind and fit in with all the other kids.

The story opens with Rafe's arrival at his new dorm room, where he now lives with Albie, a survivalist who is really, really messy. They are frequently joined by Albie's friend Toby, a skinny kid who shares Albie's survivalist interests and love for a drinking game they call scanner pong, which involves a police scanner and drinks (but no ping pong balls). Rafe starts playing sports and finds he really likes being part of a team, and really likes some of the other guys, though he suspects their friendships wouldn't come so easily if they knew he was gay. Which just goes to show what a good idea this was, right? He doesn't tell his parents his plans, nor does he tell his best friend Claire Olivia. So this isn't going to get awkward at all, ever, because surely nobody from home will ever have contact with anybody from school. Ha ha! Obviously, this sort of lie is not going to actually make things as awesome as Rafe thinks.

I'll admit that I wasn't looking forward to reading this. My Not-So-Young Adult book group picked it, but I was sort of cringing at the whole premise. A gay kid wanting to essentially go back into the closet? But of course the whole point (spoiler?) is that it's a horrible idea and he has to learn the hard way what a horrible idea it is. I really like how the author handled the whole thing, and I especially liked that Rafe had one teacher who was in on his secret and made him write about it in the journal he kept for his class.

Speaking of adults, there were some great adult characters in this book. Rafe's parents were pretty earthy-crunchy and ultra-supportive of him being gay (to the point of embarrassment), but I really liked their relationship. I especially loved his relationship with his mother. As much as she aggravated him sometimes, he thought she was a really good person and he would sometimes put his arm around her or lean on her affectionately, and talk to her about personal things in his life. It was very sweet. His friendship with Claire Olivia was also very close and supportive and fun, and I also like the friendships he developed with some of the guys at school, Albie, Toby, and Ben.

But my favorite part of this whole book isn't even really part of the book. There's a passage in which Rafe is thinking about the way his guy friends talk about women: "I tried to imagine what it would be like if gay were normal and all of us were gay. Would we objectify men in the same way?" That question was underlined in pencils and a note pencilled in next to it said "Brilliant Absolutely Brilliant = Mind Blown" Underneath it in purple pen someone else wrote "100% same" with four arrows pointing to the first person's comment. I'm not normally an advocate of writing in library books, but I'm a HUGE advocate of teens being really excited about what they are reading.

In summary, this is a great book about friendship, honesty, and being true to ourselves and those we care about. Surprisingly fun and insightful!

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