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princessstarr

Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

Openly Straight

Openly Straight - Bill Konigsberg I think with this book there’s an elephant in the room, and that elephant’s name is David Levithan. This is not a slam on Levithan or his work (which I’ve really enjoyed so far), but with the upcoming release of Two Boys Kissing, plus the anniversary of Boy Meets Boy, I have a feeling that Openly Straight is going to be lost in all of the hype surrounding those two books. (Again, this is not a slam on Levithan; rather more me being like “But this book is awesome too!”) I bring up Levithan specifically for an interview he did regarding Boy Meets Boy’s tenth anniversary, and him saying that BMB was a book he had to write then, and Two Boys Kissing is a book for now. Openly Straight, I think, is also a book that needed to be written now. There’s been very few YA books that have gay characters but it’s all about them struggling with their sexuality and being themselves. And Bill Konigsberg rightfully addresses a fact that I think should be addressed—why is being gay the only defining trait a gay person can have? Why can’t there be more to their character than just that? And he channels that perfectly with Rafe and his dilemma: Rafe is only known as the gay kid. But in regards to other coming out stories, he actually has it pretty easy; so why does he have to be the one to champion gay rights? And that’s why I really liked this book—Rafe’s conflict and dilemma felt real to me. Yes, he wants to be active and positive about being gay, but he doesn’t want it to be his defining trait. He’s sick of his gayness being a big deal, and doesn’t understand why everyone else doesn’t get his wishes. I have to point out that Konigsberg does address the privilege of Rafe being around now, when again, ten or twelve years ago, his moving to a new school wasn’t so much of “Okay, it’s just don’t ask, don’t tell” to “No, you can’t tell anyone that you’re gay.” And I think that this allows the reader to really understand that yes, there’s still a lot of casual homophobia that can be encountered on a daily basis. So that said: Rafe and Ben. My heart. Their relationship is a great example of any high school crush gone wrong overall. It’s really telling that Rafe does mistake his overt sexual feelings towards Ben as being “agape”, the love that’s purer and truer than erotic love. (Or, y’know, the plot of 70% of other YA romances out right now.) I like that Rafe doesn’t try to justify his actions when he realizes what he’s done to Ben, nor does he try to cast Ben in a bad light. (I actually think that they’ve eventually emotional reconciled. I don’t know if Rafe and Ben are still friendly six months down the road, but I do think that they get closure.) It also helps that Rafe is a strong narrator, not only in the straight narration but the various excerpts of the “History of Rafe.” The “History of Rafe” also does a great job of carrying out the backstory without dragging out the story, not to mention exploring Rafe’s own feelings with his hindsight. It helps that his narrating style and writing, while similar, are actually different in tone so it doesn’t feel like the story screeches to a halt.And I just liked Rafe, identity label dilemma aside. If you really get down to the plot of the whole book, his moving across the country is practically “OMG you all embarrass me I’M LEAVING THIS PLACE.” It’s something else that actually felt really natural, that he wanted to carve out his own identity at this point in his life. And I liked that while he does realize that identifying as gay is important, Rafe finds people who are just as frustrated as him about being gay as their only identifier. If I do have any quibbles about the book, I really felt like the plot could have covered more time than just a semester. Sure, Rafe does go through his identity crisis, and does fall in love and then have his heart crushed by Ben, but I wanted to see more of what happened after Rafe comes out at Natick. There’s a little bit that we see, but it’s not fully explored.The rest of the supporting cast is strong, too. I love that we get to see more to Albie and Toby rather than just leaving them as “God my roommate’s a weirdo” jokes, and that Rafe’s able to bond with Albie without compromising to what’s expected of his Natick social status. As I said above, I really think that if Konigsberg went further into what happens after, I wanted to see Rafe and Toby’s relationship grow. (Not shipping, just as friends.) For the minimal time she appeared on screen, I really loved Claire Olivia—I understood why she would have felt betrayed by Rafe’s leaving her behind in Colorado. If anything, I could have wanted more of Bryce; he leaves the story early on, and there’s really no discussion on what it feels for someone else to be an outsider at Natick. As I said in the beginning, I think that this is not only an important book, but definitely one that needed to be written for now. (And that I’m afraid this is going to miss a lot of people.) But aside from holding this up as An Important YA Book, I just enjoyed reading it for what it is. It’s funny and sweet and touching and heart-breaking, and that’s just what makes this a great book. Definitely on my recommendation list (and preparing for the inevitable “Oh, so you like Levithan? Try this!” reccing.)