I read Openly Straight last year and, while I thought the premise of going back into the closet strange, I loved the relationship between Rafe and Ben. Honestly Ben picks up right where Openly Straight ends with Ben is questioning things after he hooks up with Rafe. Ben has discovered Rafe knows he is homosexual and wasn’t just experimenting like Ben was which sends him into a bit of a tailspin. After winter break Ben discovers he was awarded the highly prestigious Pappas Award, complete with a much needed scholarship, and decides to refocus himself on his school work and the baseball team. He mostly avoids Rafe and eventually meets Hannah a student from the nearby all girls school which seems to reaffirm his sexual orientation (to himself) as straight.
But Rafe and Ben eventually reconnect as friends which in turn complicates Ben’s relationship with Hannah. I really hated how Hannah was treated by both Ben and Konigsberg who essentially wrote her to give Ben some “straightness” cred as he struggled with his feelings for Rafe. Most of the novel is Ben struggling with his sexual identity, namely that he isn’t gay or bi but rather is a straight guy who likes having sex with just one particular guy. I understand sexuality is complicated and the more books aimed at young adults that discuss these matter the better but Konigsberg just makes Ben so unlikable with each declaration of his straightness (followed by a sexual encounter with Rafe).
“And during, I realized that the labels didn’t matter, because when two people feel that sort of pull toward each other, it just works, and the only label that mattered was that I was in love. Totally, fully, ecstatically.”
There is also a subplot involving Ben’s struggle with calculus homework which may cause him to lose the Pappas Award. This dovetails into an investigation into Peter Pappas, the namesake of the award, a student who enlisted in the army during the Vietnam War and died. The two storylines eventually converge into an ending that leads me to believe there will be a threequel.