“Openly Straight,” or, “just let this idiot be happy”
I was genuinely surprised to find this book on my Kindle; I knew it was one I’d been wanting for a while, but I didn’t remember actually buying it. Still, I’m on vacation, trying to work my way through the backlog of books a bit, so I shrugged and started to read.
Here’s the concept, containing no more spoilers than the Amazon blurb: Rafe is an openly gay young man living in Boulder, Colorado. And by ‘openly gay,’ I mean very; he came out in middle school, his parents threw a coming out party, his mom became president of the local PFLAG chapter, and he’s got, like, an internship kind of thing being a speaker at other high schools in the area. Not bad for a sophomore in high school.
That’s where the book starts, and it quickly leaves that point, because Rafe isn’t happy with this life. Sure, everyone accepts him as The Gay Kid, but that’s all he is. He scores the winning goal in a soccer game, and the local newspaper runs a story: “Gay Student Wins Game!” And who really likes being boiled down to one aspect of their personality?
So he leaves; gets himself accepted to an Ivy-prep boarding high school over on the East Coast somewhere. Not mentioned to the very-supporting parents and friends? The fact that he’s not going to be gay there; he’s going to let the ‘straight until proven gay’ aspect of heterosexism1 take over and get to experience life from the other side.2
Which is, honestly, a very interesting concept, but in execution, I didn’t enjoy it all that much. It felt, to me, like the book was trying to be two different things at once, and as a result, failing at both. The beginning and end are in a more literary bent, exploring some of the stuff I’d mentioned earlier. Which is a valid topic to be explored, and the way it’s handled is sufficient that, at the end of this point, I’m still going to recommend the book. Where it falls apart is in the middle; the book gets a bit distracted from that literary style and turns into a bit of a teenage romance fluff pile.
Again, not a bad thing, but the two aspects don’t work well together; the conflict of the book should be either the literary ‘man versus society’ kind of thing, or the romance ‘man versus his own idiotic self being mad at romance’ deal. Instead it’s ‘literary aspirations versus the plot arc of a romance novel,’ and both portions lose out for it. The romance novel falls apart because that’s what the literary aspect demands, and the meaning of the literary component feels cheapened by the collapsing romance.
I wish I could’ve liked this book more, but oh well. Still, it does have some valuable things to say, and I’m going to go ahead and recommend it.3 Give it a read, and maybe do a slightly better job than I did at engaging with the more thought-provoking portions.4
- If you don’t know what the word means, read the book, it does a better job explaining it than I can. ↩
- The first few chapters of this are actually very anxiety-inducing; minority stress is a real thing, and imagining going through it without a support network is a stressful concept. ↩
- Because, y’know, this has been such a glowing review. ↩
- Part of the issue for me, I suppose, is that all the thoughts it’s trying to provoke are conclusions I arrived at a while ago; I’m not really the target audience, I suppose. ↩