Rafe Goldberg, the fiercely likeable narrator of Bill Konisberg’s refreshing, highly original young adult novel, "Openly Straight," has what any out high school teen can only wish for: a loyal and incorrigibly sassy female best friend, an accepting student body and rainbow flag-waving parents who don’t just love their son unconditionally but believe his sexual orientation is cause for celebration.
Rafe, however, isn’t especially pleased with having to live his life in a fishbowl where everything he does and everywhere he goes is preceded with the label "GAY." Determined to blend into the crowd like everyone else and learn what it’s like to be just another teenager, Rafe uproots his life in Boulder, Colorado and travels east to Natick, Massachusetts where he enrolls in an all-boys school and pretends to be straight.
The idea that an out youngster just half-way through high school would embark on such a journey, and more importantly, recognizes his need to do so -- secretly, no less -- provides a clear picture of how courageous and self aware Rafe is and helps the reader understand early on that this is not your ordinary coming-of-age story.
Immediately upon arrival, a gleeful Rafe is welcomed into the world of jocks and athletes by his soccer teammate, Steve, much to the chagrin of Albie, Rafe’s survivalist roommate who spends his days preparing for the apocalypse with his openly gay best friend, Toby. For the most part, Rafe settles in well and things go according to plan, until he becomes acquainted with the brooding and pensive Ben.
Rafe and Ben soon acknowledge their "bromance" friendship is unlike anything either has ever experienced before, and as Rafe grows fonder of Ben, he regrets having to continuously lie about his real self. Furthermore, Rafe’s parents and BFF Claire Olivia are taken aback, and that’s putting it kindly, when they learn the real reason he relocated to New England.
Much like everyone’s high school experience, Rafe’s story is complicated and messy, but not without its moments of enjoyment and hilarity. Above all, he begins to understand that self-discovery is an ongoing work in progress, while being reminded how invaluable family and friends are during the process.
The author’s crisp, clever prose in this entertaining novel ensures that readers of all ages will revel in Rafe’s memorable adventures with family, friends and his newfound "openly straight" identity.
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic
by Bill Konigsberg