By Bill Konigsberg
(Arthur A. Levine Books, New York, N.Y. 2013. 320 pages)
Ages 14 and older
"It's not exactly right to say I always wanted to sit at the jock lunch table back at Boulder. I mean, I'd enjoyed sitting with my best friend, Claire Olivia. We'd had a lot of laughs, and some of those laughs were at the expense of the jock kids. But I admit I had always wondered what it would be like to be at the top of the food chain."
So muses Rafe Goldberg on his first day at the all-boys boarding school in Natick, Mass., at which he is about to start his junior year of high school. There are quite a few young adult novels that have their main character trying for a do-over on their high school persona and experience by going to a new school in a new town, but Bill Konigsberg, in his novel "Openly Straight," gives this plot strategy a distinctive twist.
It's not that Rafe is running away from a bad situation, or trying to pursue popularity, because he's not - he just wants to be known as a regular guy. Someone who plays sports, gets decent grades ... someone who fits in. He doesn't want a label. Because back at home in Boulder, Colo., with his zany, liberal, doting parents; his great best friend; and all the kids at his old school he's known as the gay kid.
It's not that he's the only boy who's out at his school, or that people have given him a hard time, because he's actually got it about as good as any gay boy in America can, and he knows that. It's just, well, wouldn't it be nice to live without a label?
Negotiating his new "straight" self opens up a whole new set of experiences for Rafe, but - as he makes friends, develops as a student, and even falls deliciously in love - he begins to wonder if his lie of omission ultimately threatens to create more barriers than full disclosure ever did. If a person denies one label, do others come in to fill its place?
A delightful story with clever, honest, whimsical characters, this book encourages readers to explore the idea of what constructs identity right along with the characters. It provides nice insight into the mind of a gay boy who is easy to identify with and easy to admire, and also invites everyone to move beyond mere tolerance or acceptance into a true celebration of our diversity.
Recommended for fans of realistic fiction, gay and straight alike, "Openly Straight" is on the list of 10 titles compiled by the Oregon Young Adult Network, a division of the Oregon Library Association, for the 2014 Mock Printz Award.
- Kori Kunz, teacher librarian,
Sheldon High School