I picked up this book at the library because it was mentioned in one of the author speeches I’d seen at NCTE in Washington last fall. When I checked it out of the library, my trusty librarian told me it reminded her of Winger because of the setting and some of the topics. I ended up agreeing with her.
Openly Straight follows Rafe’s journey as a popular soccer-playing high school junior from Boulder to a private East Coast boarding school (Natick) where he wants to try on a new personality–that of a straight guy. His parents are open and accepting of his sexuality, and ever since he came out his community has embraced him. His best friend Olivia doesn’t want him to go East because she will miss him, but nobody knows the real reason he wants to go to private school all the way across the country.
When he arrives, Rafe is finally treated like just one of the guys, and he plays flag football with the jocks on his first day there. He forms a strong friendship with his roommate Albie and Albie’s best friend Toby (who happens to be one of the few out gay students at the school). Rafe struggles with who he is and who he identifies with as he sorts through the reasons why he wanted to hide who he is. When Olivia and his parents find out, they can’t understand why he would want to go back into the closet. Rafe ends up falling for his best friend Ben, and complications arise since he has been dishonest about who he really is.
I enjoyed this book for the complexity of emotions and the honesty about how hard it is sometimes to be yourself when everyone seems to think they already know who you are and have labelled you. I especially enjoyed the journal entries dispersed throughout–Rafe’s English teacher Mr. Scarborough, has assigned him to write about his conflicts, and Rafe uses the writing as a discovery tool. By the end of the book, he’s learned to let go in his writing and discovered a few things about himself.
Some favorite passages:
*“It’s hard to be different,” Scarborough said. “And perhaps the best answer is not to tolerate differences, not even to accept them. But to celebrate them. Maybe then those who are different would feel more loved, and less, well, tolerated.”
*“The world needs people who are more comfortable standing still. We keep the earth on it axis when everybody else is bouncing around.”
*“You can be anything you want, but when you go against who you are inside, it doesn’t feel good.”