Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsberg is a coming out story that feels both unique and contemporary. And that is probably because it isn’t really a coming out story … it’s a story that asks what the personal and communal implications are when a gay teenager decides to go back into the closet.
Of course, that’s not how Rafe views his plan to switch schools and keep his sexual orientation a secret. As the back of the book will tell you, he thinks of his decision as more of a clean slate. For the most part, he appreciates how supportive his friends, family, school, and community has been since he came out in the 8th grade. Yeah, the party his parents threw him complete with party hats that say “Yay! Rafe is gay!” was a little over the top. And he isn’t thrilled when his mom becomes local chapter president of PFLAG and he has to go to meetings to talk about his feelings all the time. But that isn’t why he made this drastic decision.
Rafe wants a chance to be a regular guy and not “the gay guy”. He wants people to see him as a writer, a soccer player, and a friend before they think of his sexual orientation. He is willing to leave the liberal haven of his ski town in Colorado, to go to a all boys New England prep school to achieve this.
The story is told through Rafe’s first person narration so it is easy to identify with him. As a reader there is a great tension that develops from both understanding his motivation and knowing that the plan will blow up in his face at some point. At first, it seems like Rafe’s plan works perfectly. For the first time since his adolescence, he develops a close group of male friends and is accepted into the jock group at school. Inevitably, his situation becomes complicated as he has to answer more questions about his sexuality (i.e. lie), wonders if he identifies more with his nerdy roommate than the school athletes, and develops a very close friendship with Ben that swings between agape and eros.
Aside, from feeling fully engaged in the story and main character (as well as also developing a pretty big crush on Ben) the story raises questions without giving the reader easy answers. I am a fan of this. I found my self wondering what happens when a person tries to remove their sexuality from their identity? I also wondered if Rafe’s family and best friend’s problems with his plan signaled their supportiveness or prove his point that they saw his sexual orientation before his individuality. Reading this book really made me think about how, especially in high school, we define each other in terms of differences rather than similarities. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Can it be both and can it be changed?
This book was such an interesting mix of LGBT fiction, love story, and coming of age story. I had a few nit picky problems while reading, but overall I thought it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I also highly suggest checking out Bill Konigsberg’s blog.
*This is my second book review for the 2014 LGBT Challenge. Click here to see other bloggers who are participating, read other reviews of YA LGBT books, and/or join the challenge yourself.