Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

I came across this book during a conversation with my colleague and friend Jon Wargo (@wargojon). Jon and I have both taught a course titled “Issues of Diversity in Children’s and Adolescent Literature” at Michigan State University in the College of Education. Jon is a fantastic teacher educator who does work around gender and sexuality in education (among other topics). He and I have had a number of conversations about labels, in particular the ways that he sees the “alphabet soup” of LGBTQ can sometimes be prohibitive in terms of how we think of ourselves and others.

As Jon prepares to teach a new section of TE448 focused on gender and sexuality, Bill Konigsberg‘s new book Openly Straight was suggested to him as a possible title over on child_lit (a fabulous list serv). Conveniently, I had downloaded it from NetGalley the day before and so I could start reading it immediately. I read it in 2 days (maybe 3), it was one that I didn’t want to put down because I became so invested in the characters.

Here are some initial thoughts about Openly Straight (no spoilers):

  • the character development of Rafe. I LOVE character, it is my favorite literary element hands down. Rafe is complex and interesting. He is consistent enough that as a reader I felt like I knew him; but also changed and grew as the book went on in very believable ways.
  • This book really made me think about labels; something that Jon has made me more aware of as we have worked together. I finished the book 3 days ago and I’m still thinking about how labels impact our perceptions of others as well as ourselves. When I teach children’s literature, I bring up these concepts to students and we discuss them in terms of representations in books. The fact is – the are SUPER complex and multi-layered. This book reminded me of that in terms of my own self and also in terms of societal labels.
  • This book wasn’t all neat and tidy. There were times when I was uncomfortable because the characters were – I love this because it is real.
  • I strive to have students in my classes read books that can serve as both mirrors and windows. This book did that for me. It helped me not only think about friendships, parenting, gender, and relationships (all in mirror ways); but it also helped me to think about “window” experiences of out students, single-gendered school experiences, and frankly, male perspectives.

I’m still “chewing” on this book. I want to read it again. Jon is reading it as well, as are some other friends and I can not wait to talk with others about it. If you’ve read it, please share your thoughts, ideas and ponderings…

Openly Straight

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