Tuesday, December 11, 2018

*Review* Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Genre: LGBT Fiction
Published: May 28, 2013
Pages: 339

The award-winning novel about being out, being proud, and being ready for something else . . . now in paperback.

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.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book for free through Audiofile Sync's summer reading program for teens. There was no expectation for a review.

In case you don't know this about me by now, I tend to go into books without having read the blurb at all (or at least not recently enough to remember what it said). So when I started listening to this book I was expecting an alternate reality type story where the majority of the population is homosexual and so being straight could be perceived as being weird or different. This book is not set in an alternate reality. It's set in real reality where Rafe's parents wouldn't be able (or probably even want to) get him a birthday cake from a baker in a nearby town.

So once I was up to speed with the basic gist of the storyline, I really enjoyed it. While I couldn't exactly relate to Rafe, never having felt the need to be not open about my sexuality, I could relate to how he wanted his experience at the all boys boarding school to be different than his life back in Boulder. I changed schools in high school, and definitely had big plans about being a different person at the new school. One of us had significantly more success with our goals than the other, although ultimately I don't think things went the way either of us had envisioned in the end.

I don't think I'm really qualified to pass judgement on the merits of the story beyond that because I can't really say if this is/could be an accurate portrayal of what gay kids experience, or how they feel. It felt realistic to me, and I was definitely able to put myself in Rafe's shoes for the ride and understand his motivations, but that is where I feel my judgement has to stop.

Overall I give Openly Straight 4.0629 stars. - Katie 

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.

A B- student and adequate junior varsity athlete throughout high school, Bill was voted Most Likely to Avoid Doing Any Real Work In His Life by a panel of his disinterested 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 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." 

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 Penguin 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." That novel won the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, which made him an unbearable dinner companion for months thereafter.

His third novel, The Porcupine of Truth, was released in May of 2015. He chose to put a porcupine in the title because this is America, and no one here knows what a platypus is. The novel won the Stonewall Book Award.

His forthcoming book is Honestly Ben, a companion book to Openly Straight. He wrote it so people would stop yelling at him about Openly Straight's ending. Honestly Ben will be published in March of 2017.

Bill currently lives in Chandler, Arizona, which is the thinking man's Gilbert, Arizona. He has a husband who is clearly too good for him, and two cute dogs, Mabel and Buford, who complete him.

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