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Words, Worlds, Whorls

A place where I write reviews and keep track of what I want to read or have already read.

Openly Straight

Openly Straight - Bill Konigsberg Even as I dug this book out of the kids ARC cubby at work, I said to my coworker, "This book is going to annoy the crap out of me...but I have to read it."It's a fascinating premise: high-schooler Rafe is tired of being known around town as ~the gay kid~. Everyone is very accepting of him, almost to the point of being too accepting. It's PCness gone horribly, horribly wrong, and Rafe is sick of it. He just wants to be a teenage boy without labels - or at least with no labels that make him feel left out. So he moves to a boarding school on the other side of the country and starts afresh as a boy who does not say his preference unless asked directly, in which case he is willing to lie.It is pretty understandable, for the most part. Fear of being labelled in high school was a big part of why I denied my own identity for such a long time. So it wasn't really the idea behind the novel that frustrated me (though I was skeptical at first), but the execution.I've been told repeatedly that I should not be allowed near teen books because I don't find them believable. Dragons and vampires and aliens? Lay 'em on me, so long as they have a realistic setting around them. Teens who get along with their parents and are pretentiously smart? Pfffft, no thanks. "Take it with a grain of salt," my coworkers tell me. Well, I took this with a whole boulder of salt and it still drove me crazy. Rafe thinks he has everything figured out, but at times his characterization is inconsistent. He wants to be a guys' guy but he lets his best friend call him "Shay Shay." He says he loves his parents but never seems happy with anything they do.The rest of the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes. The parents are the uber-accepting, hippie-dippie types who craft tofu into the semblance of a roasting pig. Claire Olivia is the self-centered gossipy BFF (excuse my unPCness for a moment but she is a completely stereotypical fag-hag; as soon as Rafe leaves she starts hanging out with another, even more flamboyant gay kid named Caleb). Steve and his crew are the jocks-who-seem-nice-but-are-really-assholes. The only person who felt really well fleshed-out was Ben, the love interest. I was rooting from the start (even though I thought I could tell where this was headed: "closeted" gay kid falls for straight best friend, best friend rejects him, spare me - thankfully I was sort of wrong), and then when he started questioning his own sexuality I was nearly beside myself. He knows he likes girls, but he also is in love with Rafe and wants to be close to him in ways beyond mere friendship. At one point they talk about agape - transcendental love. In the end when Ben could not reconcile who he is inside with whom he has to be for his family, it broke my heart. It sounded entirely too similar to a story I've heard before and that was more painful to me than anything Rafe went through. Does Rafe eventually learn his lesson and realize the damage it does to hide an integral part of himself? Well, it's YA fiction so of course he does. Is that a spoiler? I doubt it.So why, with all these complaints, have a rated it four stars? Consider that the boulder of salt. My new rule when it comes to teen fiction is "whatever your impulse is, add half a star to it, and that is your rating" and voila, 3.5 is upped to 4. Also, this is my first foray into teen LGBT fiction, ever. I've read several literary adult LGBT books, many of which were very well written and I loved, but since it's teen fiction, I'm supposed to give it some sort of leniency, apparently.