Friday, June 21, 2013

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

"He looked me in the eye.  His eyes were a translucent blue. He looked kind.  I didn't want to look away.  I realized that not being the gay kid here allowed me more access.  I wasn't supposed to hold eye contact with jocks back in Boulder.  It was understood:  They accepted me, and I didn't freak them out with eye contact.  Here, no such contract had been made." 
Rafe is out, and his family's fine with it.  So's his school.  His teachers.  His soccer team.   His mother threw an embarassing coming-out dinner for all his friends when he came out, and now she's the ultra-enthusiastic president of the local PFLAG chapter.  His teachers turn to him when they need a minority perspective.  He gives "I'm a gay kid" talks at other high schools.  He's sick of all this inclusion and acceptance, because it makes him feel two-dimensional.  He doesn't want gay to be the only thing about him people respond to, but this is how he's beginning to feel:

                                                          "GAY GAY GAY RAFE GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY 
                                                          GAY GAY GAY GAY RAFE GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY
                                                         GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY 
                                                        GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY
                                                       GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY RAFE GAY..."

 Rafe decides he wants to start over as a whole person, and so, in spite of the bewilderment of his parents and best friend, he transfers to an all-boys boarding school, where he decides, not to go back in the closet exactly, but just to not mention his orientation.   He has a great time.  He plays sports.  He makes friends.  He goofs around.  He takes a writing class.  He pretends his best friend Claire Olivia is an ex-girlfriend.  He falls in love with Ben.  Oooooops!

"I didn't tell him I was gay because I didn't want anything to come between us."

It's the falling in love part that's awkward.  Ben's straight, but they develop an intimate friendship that seems to suggest other possibilities.  The thing is, the longer Rafe goes without telling Ben about his orientation, the more it seems to matter.  Rafe's dilemma is how to communicate his inner truth without being reduced to a label, and while this  book doesn't offer any ideal solutions, it does in the end suggest that honesty is the best policy. Rafe's a very likeable character and Konigsberg has a great ear for dialogue, but what I liked best about Openly Straight is how deftly Konigsberg balances the tone between light and serious.  This book feels like it would be very readable for teens of all genders and persuasions who are interested in issues around constructing an identity that's in keeping with your own deepest sense of self.  


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