And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.
So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn’t even know that love is possible.
In the last few months, I seem to have become slightly addicted to LGBT YA written by male authors from the US. You see, I’m currently in the extremely early stages of writing a LGBT YA and one of the first rules of writing is to know your genre.
So if you’ve noticed a bit of a theme on WtOC, that’s why.
I really enjoyed this book, but I did have a few problems with it. The whole idea was great. I mean, what teenager (or twenty something, for that matter) hasn’t at some point wanted the opportunity to start afresh? To get rid of all the baggage they’ve accumulated, whether it’s something you’ve collected or something that other people have given to you. The idea of just shedding everything and becoming sounds good, right?
Well, like putting a milky bar in between two slices of bread and making a toastie; it’s better as an idea than in practice.
You know when you’re reading a book and you know that the main character is making a silly, silly decision and if they just said something or came clean everything would, nine times out of ten, work out OK? Sure they’d be a few awkward conversations and people would be angry but the longer the lie goes on, the more convoluted it becomes and the whole situation just becomes ten times worse.
And I know this book wouldn’t be the same if Rafe had just come clean to everyone. And I know that the whole point of the story is to show Rafe learning about the consequences of his decisions. And I know that when you’re trying to find out who you are and where you fit in with everything, you make stupid mistakes and make a bit of a fool of yourself.
But as with lots of other YA characters that I like, I kind of adopt this weird big sister mentality and want to slap some sense into them. I loved Rafe and I got what he was doing but when you know what’s going to happen and they don’t, I get so frustrated. Especially when you saw everything that he wanted, the chance to just be Rafe with people who see him as Rafe and not gay Rafe, slipping from his grasp.
However, I pretty much loved every single character in this book. I adored Rafe’s parents, with their unapologetic love for their son (which manifests in a mixture of home videos for every occasion, a coming out party and a party with tofu pigs) and Claire Olivia, his best friend that is what every best friend in YA fiction should be.
My favourite character, of course, was Ben. Oh lovely bumbling Ben. The interactions between him and Rafe were fantastically executed, both the lovely bits, with the first toe-curlingly embarrassing interactions (possibly my favourite meeting in a YA book, by the by) to the deeper, more meaningful conversations the two lads have.
Whichever side of the Happy Ending debate* you fall on, it would be difficult not to appreciate the ending that Mr Konigsberg gives these two.
And the writing was ace, so much so that I had ordered Out of Pocket by Mr Konigsberg before I even finished this one. And that book is about American football. American football. If anyone’s heard me tell them about the time I tried to watch and understand the Superbowl, you will know that making me want to read a book about American football isn’t a feat people should take lightly.
The writing was lively and so funny that even when the book dealt with the deeper issues it never felt over the top or that Konigsberg had an agenda he was desperate to get across.
All in all, Openly Straight is an interesting book and takes a different and refreshing take on LGBT YA. Sure some bits were frustrating, but the brilliant characters and the fresh writing more than made up for it.
*This isn’t a real thing. But basically, I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of YA readers: those who want their characters to have a lovely, neat and convenient ending with every question answered and happiness and rainbows. Or those who like a shot of gut-wrenching angst and ambivalence with their endings. I’m part of the latter camp, you?