The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books loved Openly Straight!
The result is our second “starred” review. The first came from Booklist. I assumed I had blogged about that review, as it was the most beautiful review a book of mine has ever received, but as I look back I see no evidence of this. So I will post both of the starred reviews here.
A starred review, for those who don’t know, is reserved for books of “special distinction.” BCCB has given 25 starred reviews this year so far. Booklist gives starred reviews to somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the books it reviews. This last piece of information may not be precise. I couldn’t find anything online about it that was reputable.
Now a junior in high school, Rafe, who has been out since he was 14, is thoroughly sick of being labeled “the gay kid.” So he does something bold: he leaves his Colorado school to enroll in a private boys’ academy in New England where no one knows he’s gay and he can be a label-free, “openly straight” part of a group of guys. Does this mean he goes back into the closet? No, he tells himself, not exactly; “It was more like I was in the doorway.” But is he fooling himself? Can you put a major part of yourself on hold and what happens when you then find yourself falling in love with your new (straight) best friend?
Lambda Literary Award-winner Konigsberg (Out of the Pocket, 2008) has written an exceptionally intelligent, thought-provoking, coming-of-age novel about the labels people apply to us and that we, perversely, apply to ourselves. A sometimes painful story of self-discovery, it is also a beautifully written, absolutely captivating romance between two boys, Rafe and Ben, who are both wonderfully sympathetic characters. With its capacity to invite both thought and deeply felt emotion, Openly Straight is altogether one of the best gay-themed novels of the last ten years. – Michael Cart
Rafe has been out and proud since eighth grade, and it was fine: his school friends were cool, his parents threw him a party, and his mother has become the president of Boulder’s PFLAG chapter. All this has become rather tiresome, though, and Rafe longs for a life without labels, where people can see him as Rafe before they see him as the gay kid. He hatches a plan to attend a posh boys’ boarding school out east where he can start fresh. Though initially perplexed, his parents and his best friend ultimately support him as he explores life in boyworld where his orientation is not a barrier to his being fully accepted by the jocks as well as the geeks. He develops an intensely intimate relationship with a sensitive jock named Ben that leads to his falling in love, however, and he realizes that true intimacy has to start and end with honesty. This unusual treatment of the subject of labels, integrity, and the role of sexuality in identity forthrightly explores life after homophobia; no one in Rafe’s life is troubled by his sexuality, but that doesn’t completely answer the question of when and under what circumstances his orientation is relevant. A creative writing teacher pushes Rafe to explore what he’s doing and why, and his comments on Rafe’s writing, while not preachy, offer some clear lessons, as do Rafe’s honest and painful reflections after he and Ben take their relationship as far as it can go in the context of Rafe’s omission. An important but subtle undercurrent here is that Rafe is an introvert in a family and culture that expect him to be more open about everything in his life; this aspect of his character is not explicitly named as such, but astute readers will come to see it as fundamental to all of the things he does explore, such as his tendency to carefully manage his self-exposure in his writing. Readers and discussion groups looking for new and deeper ways to think about what it means to live honestly in a world that sorts by labels will find this fresh and evocative. – KC
Thank you, reviewers, for helping readers find this book!