Title: Openly Straight
Author: Bill Konigsberg
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 28, 2013
Genre: Gay and Lesbian, Young Adult, Sports
Format: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audio
Rating: 5 Lattes
Heat Rating: Medium Roast
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.
This witty, smart, coming-out-again story will appeal to gay and straight kids alike as they watch Rafe navigate feeling different, fitting in, and what it means to be himself.
Have you ever read a book that made you forget you were reading about a character or a particular subject and instead found yourself thinking and analyzing your own life and thought processes?
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg was one of those books for me. The book is about Rafe, an openly gay young man who has an accepting family, a great support system of friends, and a school that lets him be who he is. And he HATES it.
Rafe decides he’s tired of being ‘that gay boy’, and applies to an all boy school where he can drop the gay label and just be ‘one of the guys’. He’s not there to get a boyfriend, and he doesn’t want anyone to know he is gay.
The problem is, he doesn’t tell his parents or his best friend he intends to hide who he is, and when complications arise in the form of a friend who has the potential to be more, his lies and deceptions compound until he truly isn’t himself anymore.
What kept me reading (or didn’t).
This book is about a boy who is gay, sure, but I also found myself analyzing how, when, and to whom I present my Christian beliefs. Rafe was not, and it was never insinuated that he was ashamed of BEING gay, he was just tired of the label and all that came with it. Just like Rafe described his soccer teammates or classmates feeling uncomfortable and keeping their distance from him, in the past people have done the same to me simply because I am a Christian.
This is a book I will probably read again. Mostly to glean from the wise questions posed by the English teacher, Mr.Scarborough. The journaling and writing exercises he assigned Rafe as he maneuvered through his journey of self-discovery – self-re-discovery actually – are powerful and the questions the author asked through this character resonated with me.
This story rocked me in a way I haven’t been rocked in a long time. And in a very good way. The questions Rafe faced are questions I’ve asked myself, and though I came to very different conclusions, the temptation to try what he did is very real. Especially in this world where labels seem to carry more and more weight.
My take away from this book – Always be true to who you truly are. Anything less is a lie.
Although I originally completed this book on December 27, 2015, this book still stands as one of the most impactful stories I have ever read. After more than two years later, it has not only affected the way I share my personal beliefs, but I can see now that it was a book that brought about a shift in my understanding of a community that, at the time, I knew nothing about, and about which I am still learning.
“Why can’t I just be bad?” I asked, figuring my mom would have no idea what I was talking about. “Well, that’s easy, sweetie. You can be anything you want, but when you go against who you are inside, it doesn’t feel good.”
About the Author
Bill Konigsberg was born in 1970 in New York City. Expectations were high from birth – at least in terms of athletics. His parents figured he’d be a great soccer player, based on his spirited kicking from inside the womb. As it turned out, the highlight of his soccer career was at Camp Greylock in 1978, when he was chosen for the Camp’s “D” team. There were only four levels. Bill played alongside the likes of the kid who always showered alone, the chronic nosebleeder and the guy with recurrent poison ivy.
Early in his life, Bill decided he wanted to be a disc jockey, a professional baseball player, or the Indian from The Village People. None of these career paths worked out for him. Yet. He still holds out hope for a Village People revival and has set up a Google Alert in case it happens.
A B- student throughout high school, Bill was voted Most Likely to Avoid Doing Any Real Work In His Life by a panel of his dismissive peers. He proved them wrong with a series of strange-but-true jobs in his 20s – driver recruiter for a truck driving school, sales consultant for a phone company, and temp at Otis Elevators.
He moved to Denver in 1996 and was voted Least Stylish Gay Guy in the Metro Denver Area (including Loveland!) for each of the years from 1996-98. His fashion-free wardrobe robbed him of prospective dates countless times, as did his penchant for wearing a mustache that didn’t suit him.
He worked at ESPN and ESPN.com from 1999-2002, where he developed a penchant for sharing too much information about himself. That character flaw earned him a GLAAD Media Award in 2002, for his column “Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays.” That coming out essay made him a household name to tens of people across the country.
He continued oversharing in graduate school at Arizona State, where he added People Pleasing to his growing list of character defects and parlayed that into the title of Most Chill Teacher of freshman composition.
As a sports writer and editor for The Associated Press in New York from 2005-08, Bill once called his husband, who was at the time working a desk job, from the New York Mets dugout before a game. “I’m so bored,” Bill whined. He slept on the couch for a week after making that call.
He wrote a novel called Audibles at Arizona State, and sold that novel to Dutton Books for Children in 2007. His editor asked him to change the title so that it would appeal to people other than “football players who read.” The resulting novel, Out of the Pocket, received strong reviews from his mother, father, significant other and one girl who had a crush on him in high school. It won the Lambda Literary Award in 2009.
His second novel, Openly Straight, hit the bookshelves in late May of 2013. He describes the novel as “Twilight-like, only without vampires and wolves and angsty teenage girls. Also, set in an all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts. Otherwise, it’s like an exact replica.”
Openly Straight won the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor and is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.
Bill currently lives in Chandler, Arizona, which is the thinking man’s Gilbert, Arizona.
His blog and website is at billkonigsberg.com.