I saw this book first on Sarah’s blog Sarah Reads Too Much and as soon as I saw the author and read her review I knew I wanted to read it. My first introduction to Bill Konigsberg was through his debut novel Out of the Pocket. It’s hard to believe I read it three years ago AND it was my very first book on my old Sony e-reader.The best part is as I did a quick re-read of that post Konigsberg answered quite a few of my critiques and he’s clearly matured as a fiction writer over the past few years!
As I read the book I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this and Andrew Smith’s Winger which was a great novel I read last year. However, they are distinctly different and as much as I enjoyed Winger I would probably put this one ahead, not for the writing, but for the story and the subject matter.
Definitely check out the blurb and if you even think you’d remotely be interested read it. The basic premise is that Rafe, a high school Junior moves to an all male boarding school and chooses to not disclose his gay identity to his new friends so that he can experience a different type of world/be a different person. You can imagine that things don’t exactly go the best for Rafe since he is hiding a major portion of his identity, but I won’t go into that because it would reveal too much and you should just read the book. I’m not going to lie, I agree whole-heartedly with Sarah that I really wanted things to work out but knowing that it just couldn’t end the way I wanted it to filled me with trepidation as I got to the end of the book, but it couldn’t have ended any other way without breaking the reality.
This was a fascinating take on an LGBT novel and what I thoroughly enjoyed was the super-intense focus on identities and yet the choosing not to use those identities to exist. Watching Rafe grow and the forced self-reflection through the last part of the book provided a lot of insight in my journey. There is one scene where the Gay-Straight Alliance discusses the importance of coming out and being out, and honestly I couldn’t help but think that there are hundreds of LGBT individuals that should take the time to read that one section because of how simple Konigsberg made it sound and yet how eloquently he showed the necessity of it.
In addition to the great story, Konigsberg wrote some great minor characters! He could easily revisit this school and the characters, come on senior year! I want to know how Rafe makes out, but not only were his characters great he included a couple of things that will always make a book better for me. He had an incredibly witty character name (and he explained it): Claire O. Casey, which sounds like claro que sí which means but of course; he used the word adorkable, for a character that can only be described as adorkable; and last but not least he used one of my favorite phrases of all time: “the silence was deafening.” I don’t know why I love that phrase so much, perhaps it’s because of the sign for it in American Sign Language (in this video around 0:50), but also for the feelings it evokes of the complete isolation silence often provides.
Recommendations: I can’t really say enough about the awesome-ness of this book. I think everyone should read it. There’s nothing offensive and even though it has a HFN rather than a HEA ending, I was okay with it (yes that’s in code so if you don’t want to know don’t google it.)
Opening Line: “If it were up to my dad, my entire life would be on video.”
Closing Line: “We were dancers and drummers and standers and jugglers, and there was nothing anyone needed to accept or tolerate. We were celebrated.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Openly Straight
“I could see he didn’t understand that knowing a person is about more than knowing whom they fantasize about. That’s the small stuff, actually. Not the big stuff. The big stuff is lying next to a guy on the floor and locking eyes and having deep conversations about philosophy. The big stuff is letting a friend know your hopes and your fears and not having to make a joke about it. That’s what matters.” (180-181)
“We were silent again, except for my pounding heart, and the jitter in my throat, the feeling of waves crashing over my head — waves of some alien feeling that felt ridiculously good. Was this love? Was I in love with Ben? Because whatever I felt was everywhere in my body and it was something I wanted more of, immediately. I so wanted to tell Ben everything, and how I once had an almost boyfriend, but that I would have traded that entire experience for two seconds of this.” (186)
“It was just such a thing my mother would say. Then she started singing ‘All You Need is Love,’ and I excused myself because there’s a certain level of cheese that’s too goopy even for me.” (254)
“He was about as nonstereotypical a gay person as you could get. His face was strong but covered in that acne. His body strong but covered in fur. There had always been a part of me that thought guys like that were the luckiest because they could pass as straight. But now I realized just the opposite was true; being able to pass for something you’re not is a kind of curse. Especially if you try it.” (282)