By Bill Konigsberg
Available now from Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic)
Rafe is tired of being the gay kid. He understands that he's lucky, with his understanding hippie parents and progressive hometown Boulder, CO . . . but he's still tired of that one label always coming first. So he decides to do what any foresight-lacking teenager would do and moves to a prep school across the country where no one knows that he's gay.
But Rafe's one little omission isn't as small as he things. Sometimes it becomes an outright lie. And when his friendship with one of his new classmates starts to turn romantic, it's definitely not cool that he's keeping his past a secret. What's nice is that Rafe's English teacher catches on to his secrecy pretty earlier and puts him to writing about his motivation. Rafe's assignment pieces and the teacher's commentary illuminate where Rafe is refusing to reflect and eventually helps Rafe think his experiment through.
Now, I am not saying Rafe is 100% in the wrong. No one should be defined as a label. But as OPENLY STRAIGHT points out, lying to people isn't cool. And people who wouldn't be friends with you if they knew that you were gay, or bisexual, or able to fly, or from the planet Krypton . . . well, are they really the people you want to be friends with?
No matter the reader's sexuality, Rafe's struggle to define himself and where he fits in is pretty universal. Messing it up and having to apologize to people is pretty darn universal too. It's really interesting how far coming-out lit has come, that we can have a re-closeting and coming-out again novel. Strangely, I'm hoping that OPENLY STRAIGHT dates quickly. It's a new exploration of life as "the gay kid" but it really would be nice if people stopped putting such emphasis on other people's sexuality.
OPENLY STRAIGHT is quick and funny, but grounded by well-thought out philosophy and sociology. My favorite part of the story might be just how much Rafe is motivated by sex. Even coming out - he comes out because he's more likely to get laid that way. Rafe is just such a teen guy. At the same time, I liked that Rafe's family and friends were as important to the story than his romances. (And that everyone realized they were drinking maybe a bit too much.) OPENLY STRAIGHT is a good summer read that will make you think a few thinky thoughts between laughs.