Monday, July 1, 2013

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Arthur L Levine/Scholastic, June 2013
Pages: 341

Rafe considers himself to be pretty lucky for a gay teen. He was able to "come out" in eighth grade with few challenges or problems, has supportive (PFLAG-active) parents, has some good friends, is active in sports, and is lucky to live in a rather liberal city in Colorado. Yet, tolerance can be annoying when he is constantly being referred to as "that gay guy," and it seems to overshadow everything else that he wants his teachers and fellow students to recognize about him. He convinces his parents into letting him take his last two years of high school at a boarding school in Massachusetts, supposedly to get into a better college, but his real plan is to see what it would be like to keep his sexuality under wraps for once. In his mind, he is not going back into the closet again; he's just declining to talk about it, and see if things are different.

His "experiment" starts off encouraging, as he is soon part of a clique of popular jocks, and enjoying this new experience. However, his parents, and best friend Claire Olivia, weren't initially told about his plan to be incognito about his sexuality, and they worry that his omission is actually a deception, which he will eventually regret. He confides in one teacher, remains closeted in making friends with a gay student, and is readily accepted by most of the campus athletes, including one somewhat quiet hunk with whom Rafe feels a special connection. Uh, oh!

Author Konigsberg, who has a background as a popular sports writer (and who won a GLAAD Media Award for his own "coming out" on ESPN.Com), follows up his award-winning first novel ("Out of the Pocket") with this creative and thoughtful spin on a gay coming-of-age novel. Rafe isn't ashamed of being gay, but he doesn't want it to define him. Sadly, it seems that gay teens will continue to carry a stigma as long as sexuality is a divisive issue in our society. Outstanding read, for all ages, and I recommend it highly. Five stars out of five.

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