September 25, 2013

BOOKS: Openly Straight, Bill Konigsberg (2013)

Rafe has been openly gay since he was in the eighth grade. And in Boulder, Colorado, it really hasn't been a big deal. His parents are almost ridiculously supportive, to the point of throwing him a surprise coming out party at Hamburger Mary's, and his classmates haven't hassled him about it.

But even so, Rafe can't help but feel boxed in by the idea that everyone sees him as The Gay Kid; he fears that his social circles and range of potential friends are being limited by that perception. So when he transfers to an all-male boarding school in Boston for his junior year, he decides not to mention being gay to anyone. He won't go so far as to lie if someone asks a direct question, he tells himself, but he'd like to see what life might be like if he gets the chance to be just Rafe without being The Gay Kid.

The plan seems to be a success at first; Rafe quickly falls in with a group of the school's jocks, not at all the sort of artsy/nerdy types he'd hung with in Boulder. But inevitably, Rafe falls for one of his new friends, and wonders if there's a way to turn this friendship into something more.

Konigsberg does a fine job of lightening his serious issues with a lively sense of humor; the conversations between Rafe and his new pal Ben capture perfectly the way that smart kids meander between goofiness and profundity. He lets the consequences of Rafe's decision play out in an honest manner, without imposing an artificially happy outcome, but still finds a way to end things on a realistically hopeful note.  

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