Arthur A. Levine Books, June 2013
I have been thinking about labels…..a lot. Sometimes, a label seems superfluous (the White girl), while other times it seems to be used as an “explanation” (the Blonde girl). On the other hand, the lack of a label could be seen as misleading (oh, you didn’t say he was a Jock). When, if ever, are labels genuinely applicable?
Openly Straight allows the main character, teen-aged Rafe, to search for an answer to this question. See, Rafe has an opportunity for a do-over. Because he is openly Gay, he believes that he knows the perception and stigma that can accompany that label. He desperately wishes to know if he would be viewed differently without it. Will he find an answer, or will he find himself with even more complicated questions and fewer answers than he started with? Either way, it is a fabulously interesting journey on which we embark, as we accompany Rafe through his year of going from openly gay to slipping back into the closet….well, sort-of.
Even in a relatively controlled experiment, all things won’t be equal. Rafe was The Gay Boy with no adverse affects in his charmingly indulgent Colorado town. He begins to question the wisdom of coming out. His acceptance into an East Coast boarding school seems to be the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. There is simply no way he could have anticipated the devastation that can accompany a perceived secret.
Mr. Konigsberg tackles this somewhat sensitive topic head-on, honestly, and well…..openly. The characters are realistically flawed. They make mistakes, and don’t necessarily learn from them. The dialogues, relationships and rivalries are quintessential teen behaviors; while Rafe’s parents are affably atypical. Rafe’s story is certainly plausible; making his experiences feel very real to this reader. I had a vested interest in the outcome of his “experiment”.
This book is amazingly written. Mr. Konigsberg brings up points that, despite my mulling, I had never considered. The most important thing that I learned from reading this book is that my issue isn’t with labels, it is with the stereo-typing that often accompanies the labels. I believe that this story translates well for any label, but I am afraid that the audience may be limited simply because the label in Rafe’s life is Gay, rather than Jock, or Geek. This is one time that I certainly hope I am mistaken, because this is a book that I believe any reader would enjoy.
Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.