- Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
Rafe has been out and proud since eighth grade, and it was fine: his school friends were cool, his parents threw him a party, and his mother has become the president of Boulder's PFLAG chapter. All this has become rather tiresome, though, and Rafe longs for a life without labels, where people can see him as Rafe before they see him as the gay kid. He hatches a plan to attend a posh boys' boarding school out east where he can start fresh. Though initially perplexed, his parents and his best friend ultimately support him as he explores life in boyworld where his orientation is not a barrier to his being fully accepted by the jocks as well as the geeks. He develops an intensely intimate relationship with a sensitive jock named Ben that leads to his falling in love, however, and he realizes that true intimacy has to start and end with honesty. This unusual treatment of the subject of labels, integrity, and the role of sexuality in identity forthrightly explores life after homophobia; no one in Rafe's life is troubled by his sexuality, but that doesn't completely answer the question of when and under what circumstances his orientation is relevant. A creative writing teacher pushes Rafe to explore what he's doing and why, and his comments on Rafe's writing, while not preachy, offer some clear lessons, as do Rafe's honest and painful reflections after he and Ben take their relationship as far as it can go in the context of Rafe's omission. An important but subtle undercurrent here is that Rafe is an introvert in a family and culture that expect him to be [End Page 516] more open about everything in his life; this aspect of his character is not explicitly named as such, but astute readers will come to see it as fundamental to all of the things he does explore, such as his tendency to carefully manage his self-exposure in his writing. Readers and discussion groups looking for new and deeper ways to think about what it means to live honestly in a world that sorts by labels will find this fresh and evocative.