Welcome back, my lovely people, to yet another book that is explicitly gay.
I’ve taken a few weeks exploring different subjects… On the Come Up was about a young black rapper and her struggles. Beauty Queens was about the transformative journey of a group of young women who were raised to believe that looks were everything.
But Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg is gay. Very gay.
Rafe: Rafe is a gay high schooler from Boulder, Colorado, who is absolutely tired of being “the gay kid.” He transfers to a private school during his junior year of high school.
Ben: Ben is Rafe’s love interest (not a spoiler, because we discover Rafe likes him early on.) He also plays soccer, is incredibly smart, and is the son of two very conservative farmers from New Hampshire.
Claire Olivia: Rafe’s best friend from Boulder. She is, for lack of a better word, eccentric, but all of the Boulder residents are. She also feels things very strongly.
Rafe’s parents: Fiercely protective and supportive to a fault, Gavin and Opal Goldberg would do (and have done) anything and everything for their son.
Albie and Toby: Rafe’s survivalist friends at Natick. Albie is the disaster scene of a roommate, and Toby is the only openly gay student at the school.
The soccer guys: I lump these guys together because almost all of them are lowkey racist and homophobic jocks. The have their bright sides, but who wants them?
Bryce: Bryce is Ben’s best friend, and the only black student at Natick. He is insanely smart, and also on the soccer team.
Mr. Scarborough: The English teacher, who also becomes somewhat of a mentor to Rafe. He is the head of Natick’s GSA, and has his students keep a journal all semester. His assignment for Rafe: write about not being openly gay at Natick.
Rafe is accepted to an all-boys boarding school in Natick, Massachusetts. On his first day on campus, he makes fast friends with some of the “jocks” on campus over a game of touch football. He also meets his roommate, Albie, who basically doesn’t know how to clean, and Albie’s friend Toby.
Rafe has decided that he won’t tell anyone at school that he’s gay, because he doesn’t want to be defined by his sexuality. He also feels that his sexuality has been a barrier between himself and his guy friends since he came out.
Mr. Scarborough has Rafe write about his experience being out in Boulder, as compared to not being out at Natick. He does this int he hopes that Rafe will learn something about himself.
And Rafe grows closer and closer to Ben, one of the soccer players, as they spend more time together over the course of first semester. Rafe starts to feel conflicted, because if he doesn’t come out to Ben, Ben will never know how he feels. But if he comes out, Ben may not trust him in the same way anymore.
I really do love this book. It was one of the books I picked up from the bookstore after googling “books about lgbt.” I also have the sequel, Honestly Ben, which, as you can most likely infer from the title, is about Ben.
But as great as it is, Openly Straight falls into some of the problems Mr. Scarborough says Rafe needs to work through in his own writing: Some of the themes and scenes go unexplored, or they fall short. Scenes with Albie and Toby could have gone farther, Rafe’s relationship with Claire Olivia could have used more depth. I really, really wanted to read more (which, I guess, is why I was so excited about the sequel).
Still, I love the book. Konisberg paints a portrait of someone who came out once and is tired of everyone defining him solely by his sexuality. Plus, he says some pretty profound things.
All in all, I give Openly Straight a 3.5 out of 5.
Thank you so much for joining me. Check out my bookshelf for more books that I like to read and revisit. I hope to see you next week!