Book Review – ‘Openly Straight’ by Bill Konigsberg

Getting a chance to redefine yourself… and discovering you are so much more than you first thought.

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

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 break 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.

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I really loved the perspective in this novel and its discussion on the importance we place on labels, and the type of people we are without them.

I found the friendship/relationship growing between Rafe and Ben adorable. How some people you can just click with, and others are doomed to simply remain superfluous. It was a great character study in friendships.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the ending… I actually found it poignant. The object of this novel was about Rafe finding himself and learning the importance of the labels he’d let himself get classified into. Life is messy, it’s coloured with other people’s perceptions, there is no clear black and white… and it’s an ongoing journey.  I feel this was set up at the beginning of the novel and then commented upon at the end, comparing where Rafe ended up to where he started. Very cerebral, loved this aspect.

The friendships were great too. How Rafe felt freer to be himself by metaphorically going back into the closet. I get the whole thing about people constantly seeing him in a certain way – generally speaking we all do that. They are identifiers that help us to relate to the world at large. But they certainly not all we are. The more you get to know someone, the more they deconstruct the labels you have put on them.

It was wonderful to read a novel about a gay youth experience that didn’t involve single parent families, or unsupportive families, violence and discrimination, there were some elements of bullying and heterosexim used to illustrate the differences between a gay perception and a straight one. The whole book felt positive and informative about friendships and how to find your comfort zone with the outside world.

The relationship between Rafe and Ben was like a slow burn. It grew organically and was introspective. It was if they both decided to take the blinkers off and come at their growing feelings in a different way. I found it refreshing. A little unrealistic, because I’ve yet to meet a teen who approaches the world this way. But I appreciated it for what it is.

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Claire Olivia is cute too. Wise beyond her years. Like most of the cast in this book they are all proficient at character studies of those around them.

I also got some great writing tips from Mr Scarborough’s critique of Rafe’s writing – pushing him to think about the motivation behind his prose. Also the different forms of writing – a short story compared to free writing (stream of consciousness) it can only serve to enrich my own journey.

The humour in this novel is fantastic. Many times I was chortling so loud I sounded like a misfiring hairdryer! The characters have a dry sarcastic wit that translates well off the page.

The only downside, and the reason I’m not awarding top marks is because I felt like I wanted more from this novel. More meat. While highly philosophical, I found myself yearning for more plot, more story. As it stands this novel is fantastic, but as a reader, that sense of needing substance is not a great thing. It’s speculative, adorkable, and even educational, but not filling.

I’m definitely keen to read on in this series – with a novella (‘Openly, Honestly’) and a second book recently published ‘Honestly Ben,’ you can bet I’m going to be diving in as soon as I can. I also will be adding some of Bill Konigsberg back catalogue – his writing style is effortless, introspective, and deliciously hilarious. Dude – you’ve made me a fan!

Overall feeling: It got me here, *points to head* and here *points to heart*

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘Openly Straight’ by Bill Konigsberg

  1. daniellethamasa says:

    I bought this in e-book a year or so ago when they had it on sale for like $0.99 and still haven’t read it. This review makes me want to find a way to fit it into my reading schedule though.

    • femaleinferno says:

      I appreciated its perspective and it was a quick read. It did lack some density with storyline though. Simple, pleasant, and unique. You got it for a bargain at 0.99! I always have my nose in a hardback – shudder to think of how many unread novels are hiding on my e-reader (out of sight and out of mind.) I only pull it out when I’m travelling or on holiday… mmm, holiday! *drools and gargles like Homer Simpson*

      • daniellethamasa says:

        I’m with you there…a holiday would be nice right about now. Most of my e-book reading is e-galleys of books, because honestly I prefer physical books. But I have to admit that e-books are so handy for traveling. I used to have to plan so I had about half a suitcase available for books that I would bring with me or inevitably buy on vacation. Now I’m down to about a quarter to a third left available for books and other souvenirs.

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