Review: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

openly straight

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Rafe is openly gay in his home town of Boulder, Colorado.  OK, he’s beyond out of the closet, he’s the guy that is asked to speak publicly about being gay, his mother is president of the local PFLAG chapter, and he speaks to high schools about tolerance.  So when he heads to a private all-boys school in New England, he decides to no longer be that out about being gay.  He just wants to be normal, be one of the guys, have guy friends and play soccer.  So he goes back into the closet.  He tells himself that it’s not a big deal, since sexuality is just one part of the whole person.  But things get complicated.  First, a boy on campus has a breakdown.  Then he has to start lying to people when they ask about his girlfriend or even when asked directly whether he is straight or gay.  And yeah, there’s this guy he likes, maybe even loves.  This smart, funny novel explores what happens when coming out at home was easy, but coming out a second time is beyond difficult.

Konigsberg writes such a wonderful character in Rafe.  Rafe is fairly confident on several levels but in so many other ways, he’s a complete mess.  I love that he is a boy who spoke out about tolerance, yet seems unable to tolerate the consequences of his being out and proud.  The idea of returning to the closet is one that adds a freshness to this story while the book still deals with all of the stereotypes and negativity that gay teens face.  I also appreciate the frankness with which this book handles gay teen sex, another refreshing aspect of the novel.

Throughout the book, the tension is created through Rafe’s lies and the growing relationship he finds himself in with his best friend.  Throughout one wonders if this is the moment he breaks his silence and frees himself, but Rafe continues to live in the cage he rebuilt for himself.  It’s a book that is funny yes, but equally tragic too. 

Beautifully written with wit and style, this book takes a new look at being gay and out.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.