Admittedly, it took me forever to actually pick up my copy of Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, simply because the cover was a little too twee for me. I thought the book was going to be a shallow story aimed at thirteen year olds. My mind changed when I saw Estelle at Rather Be Reading tweeting about how much she enjoyed the book. So, based on her tweets I figured hmmm, maybe I will really enjoy this book as she makes it sound so good. You guys, I learned an important life lesson from reading Openly Straight — if Estelle is tweeting about a good book, you should read it immediately. I also learned to quit making assumptions based on covers. Also? To make this opening paragraph more about the book, I just want to say that Konigsberg’s Openly Straight gave me a lot of food for thought and is one of those books that made me feel contemplative and one that I recommend for people who want a smart, snappy read.
Rafe is best known around his hometown of Boulder, Colorado for being gay. He is out and proud. Only, everyone makes such a big deal out of his sexual orientation. It feels confining and restricting to Rafe. While he likes being gay and the fact that his parents are so accepting as are his friends and his school, he feels that it has become his defining characteristic. And so, to combat this, Rafe decides he wants to go to a boarding school in New England and go back into the closet and pretend to be straight.
So, Rafe becomes Openly Straight much to the chagrin of his hippy-dippy parents and his best female friend, Claire. Rafe pretty much excels at being straight and feels like he is accepted among the jocks for being something other the token gay kid. He plays soccer and finds himself really fitting in on the team. He’s one of the popular guys for the first time in his life. Yet, there are complications. For one, Rafe has a totally weird roommate. Another complication? Rafe has a crush on one of his friends and that could mean having to come out, again, and blow his cover. Also, there’s this English teacher who is totally riding Rafe for not being honest and holding back in his journal entries and on his writing project. Y’all, Rafe has got a complicated school year ahead of him.
My friends, I freaking loved Rafe. I love that he is not at all written as an obnoxious character or as a stereotype. I felt that despite the fact that he’s lying to everyone about his sexual orientation that Rafe was such an honest sort of character. I could get behind his motivations because he really did feel that he couldn’t be who he was because of his orientation. I don’t know, I just thought he was great and I am not writing that quite the way I want to. Just know that he’s one of the realest depictions of a teenager that I have read in quite a while.
What I truly appreciated about Openly Straight was that it caused me to think about society and how we kind of promote heteronormativity. I mean, think about it. My straightness is not my defining characteristic, because being heterosexual is kind of the default. So, like, this book made me think about how life is for Rafe and for other gay teens, how maybe as a society we define people who aren’t straight by their sexual orientation. Instead of seeing Rafe as a soccer player who happens to be gay, he is perceived as a gay person who happens to like soccer. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but what I am getting at is that, yes sexual orientation is important and we shouldn’t erase it — it’s a very, very very important part of who a person is. HOWEVER, people are also more than their orientation – if that makes sense. I think that society will get there someday, but that day is not yet today. So, I am glad this book made me think about some heady topics.
This is the first book I’ve read by Bill Konigsberg and I have to say it was not at all what I was expecting. I hate making this comparison, but the writing reminded me of John Green’s. It is quirky, smart, and honest. It is not ‘written down’. I felt like this was such a smart, engaging book without being pretentious. It’s a great read, so ignore the twee cover and pick it up today. You won’t regret it, I swear.
Disclosure: Review Copy Provided By Publisher
Other reviews of Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg:
Rather Be Reading – “I want to hug and squeeze this book until I can’t anymore.”
Lost In A Great Book – “a fantastic read that speaks honestly”
The Reading Date – “I really savored this book”