Cover of Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg. Light blue cover, six emoji like faces with a checkmark next to the least interesting one

About the Book

Title: Openly Straight
Published: 2013

Cover Story: To Label Me is to Negate Me
Drinking Buddy:
Plastic Screwdriver
Testosterone Level:
Cold Shower! Cold Shower!
Talky Talk:
Back in My Day…
Bonus Factors:
Roommates, Eros vs. Agape
Bromance Status:
I Love You, Man

Cover Story: To Label Me is to Negate Me

–Søren Kierkegaard

It seems like every year another letter is added to LGBTQ. And maybe not everyone has a neat little box with a check by it. Not everyone wants to be categorized.

The Deal:

Sixteen-year-old Rafe Goldberg came out to his parents in the eighth grade. And they took it well. Very well. They actually threw him a coming out party. Got him involved in PFLAG. His bestie, Claire Olivia, loves Rafe just the way he is, rainbow flag and all. And he lives in Boulder, Colorado, one of the most progressive cities in America.

The problem is, just about everything Rafe now does is prefixed with ‘gay’ in big, glittery pink letters. Our gay son. The gay soccer player. My gay friend. The gay perspective. Rafe finds himself crammed into category which–while appropriate–is also restraining.

Rafe convinces his parents to send him to a boarding school in New England. A place where no one knows him. A place where he can start over. Somewhere that people will kind of just assume he’s straight. Somewhere he won’t be ‘Rafe, the gay kid,’ but just plain ol’ Rafe.

All it will take is a jump back into the closet.

Drinking Buddy: Plastic Screwdriver

Two pints of beer cheersing

That’s a term from the book. Gatorade and vodka.

Rafe is hard not to like. He’s awkward, but not a nerd. He’s uber gay, but not flamboyant. He wants to fit in, but realizes he’s kind of betraying himself.

Testosterone Level: Cold Shower! Cold Shower!

Rafe quickly discovers that an all-male boarding school may not be the most relaxing place to be a closeted homosexual. Especially when he meets Ben, the intelligent, handsome, friendly, handsome, athletic, handsome guy down the hall. A guy who becomes his friend. His buddy. And hey, buddies can sleep over, can’t they? And hey, why not the same bed? You know men hold hands in India, it’s perfectly acceptable there.

I’ve never been as close to anyone as with you…

As Rafe and Ben continue to dance around a line that cannot be uncrossed, Rafe is holding on to his secret. To Ben, this is experimentation between two boys who are trying to make sense of strange new feelings. But to Rafe…he’s not confused at all.

Talky Talk: Back in My Day…

When Rafe’s parents find out what he’s doing, they’re pretty angry. How are they supposed to be the hipsters with the trendy gay son when he’s back in the closet? Claire Olivia is also pretty POed, especially when she’s forced into the role of ex-girlfriend during a visit.

And yet, they have a point. Rafe’s mother reminds him that if he’d been born twenty years earlier, there’s no way he could have come out of the closet. Being openly gay as recently as the 90s might have meant your life. Rafe needs to appreciate the fact that he lives in an era where he need not be ashamed.

Plus, maybe he’s taking advantage of Ben, just a bit. Or a lot.

Openly Straight is an interesting take on the LGBTQ novel: is there ever a time when it’s appropriate to stay in the closet? Is there such as thing as being too supportive?


Bonus Factor: Roommates

Brian and seven of his male college friends at a BBQ, 1997

Rafe winds up rooming with Albie, a weird survivalist, whose best friend, Toby, is openly gay. While Rafe initially tries to avoid them (he’s reinventing himself as a cool kid), he’s quick to realize friendship is just something that kind of happens…even if they are obnoxious slobs.

Bonus Factor: Eros vs. Agape

Red neon sign of a broken heart

So Ben has come to grips with the fact that even the strongest bromance doesn’t usually include snuggling and spooning. He and Rafe justify what they’re doing by using the multiple Greek terms for love. There’s eros, sexual love, but also agape, a kind of overarching, spiritual bond. Which is what they have. Totally. Friendship on a higher plane.

Besides, all this is new to both of them. Yep, this is just as scary to Rafe, these feelings of attraction to another man. They’re in this together.

It’s not like Rafe came out years ago and is playing innocent to seduce Ben. Because that would be pretty underhanded.

Bromance Status: I love you, man

I mean that. I can grasp your hand, look you in the eye, and tell you that. Our friendship is stronger than any piddly fears we might have.

I’m now going to watch football and read Playboy with my power tools.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor cheap vodka for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.