Review: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

review by MARISA

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As far as gay kids go, Rafe is lucky. He’s been out since he was fourteen, and his friends are okay with it. He doesn’t get bullied, and his parents even threw him a coming-out party. His mother joins their local PFLAG chapter and eventually becomes its president. So really, he doesn’t have anything to complain about – except for the fact that he feels trapped by the very label he had chosen for himself. When he looks in the mirror, all he could think of is “gay”. It’s like he doesn’t know what or who he is anymore, if stripped of the label. No one else seems to understand his need to be something more than “the gay kid”, so when he goes to an all-boys boarding school, he takes it as a chance to start anew.

New Rafe isn’t gay. Longing to be accepted just as he is, and to find out exactly who that is, Rafe decides to keep his sexuality a secret. For the first time, he is allowed entry to the world of “normal” teenage boys, befriending a group of jocks, and accepted as one of them. But even as he struggles with the elation of finally being one of the guys, and the guilt/discomfort from lying about who he is, he realises that he’s falling for one of his best friends – who thinks he’s straight.

I loved this book. I loved that Rafe isn’t yet another stereotypical gay character (I adored Finny from Kari Luna’s The Theory of Everything, but he definitely is a good example of being stereotypically gay), and that he’s such a guy, despite everything. I loved that the relationship in this story happens almost organically, growing over time – you don’t even think about it at first, but by the end you find yourself completely rooting for them to be together. I loved that this book discusses heterosexism and the homophobia that could exist even in a “tolerant” setting. I would have liked to read more about some of the characters (like Bryce), and I would have liked for others to have more depth (Steve and Zach in particular), just as I would have liked for Rafe to not be so judgmental of the “geeks” and some of the other gay characters who aren’t as straight-acting as he is. He does learn by the end of the book, but it’s a slow process, and I guess I just wished that a character that hates being a label wouldn’t be so quick to label others.

Still, this is one of the best queer YA fiction I’ve read in awhile, and reminds me strongly of Alex Sanchez, who’s one of my favourite writers. So – definitely recommended! – Mari

★★★★☆

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