A follow-up novel to Openly Straight, this second book focuses on Ben. Ben comes from a conservative New Hampshire farming family and is at a prestigious all-boys boarding school on scholarship. His life is filled with pressures of hard work and high achievement. He is told he will be the recipient of the school’s annual college scholarship and that just heaps on more expectations as does his election to be the captain of the school’s baseball team. As school pressures build, Ben is also wrestling with his sexuality. He has met a girl who makes him laugh and is distractingly beautiful, but he can’t get his best friend Rafe out of his mind. Ben is pushed to his limits in this novel that shows the importance of being honest with ourselves most of all.
Konigsberg delights in this second novel about Rafe and Ben. The use of a different perspective is refreshing and smart. The novel takes place after the first in the series, continuing the story and moving it forward. Throughout the book, other aspects of sexuality and gender are explored. Two of Rafe and Ben’s closest friends are asexual and gender fluid. They too are discovering their own identities alongside Ben, making for a rich experience for the reader.
Ben himself is a robust character with so much going on. He’s a history geek, loves to read and enjoys learning. Still, he is struggling in calculus, working late into the night just to stay afloat. Questions about teen drinking and cheating are also woven into the story, alongside the importance of being true to yourself in a myriad of ways, even if that means standing up to those around you. This is one of the best teen books with a bisexual character that I have read, even if Ben himself would not use that label.
A powerful and wildly funny look at sexuality, this novel makes me hope that future books in the series will be told from the perspectives of the other friends in the group. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.