Book Review: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Openly StraightBook: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Published May 2013 by Arthur A Levine Books|253 pages

Where I Got It: the library!

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary- LGBT

You can find Openly Straight on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

A funny, honest novel about being out, being proud…and being ready for something else.

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write. And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben…who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

This witty, smart, coming-out-again story will appeal to gay and straight kids alike as they watch Rafe navigate being different, fitting in, and what it means to be himself.

What I Thought:

I have so many thoughts about Openly Straight that I’m not quite sure where to start!  There a lot of things I really like, but there are also things that were really frustrating.

Like, I can relate to Rafe wanting to start over and not do the whole label thing.  It’s something we can all relate to, because we put labels on ourselves.  Others put their own labels on us.  And it’s annoying and frustrating, because we’re more than whatever people label us as.  It’s something we all have to deal with, and it can be hard when it’s all people see us as.

I really understood where Rafe was coming from- people definitely saw him as the gay kid, and didn’t seem interested in who he was beyond that.  His teachers seemed to constantly want the gay opinion (not my words, by the way, it’s phrased that way in the book at one point).  Everyone around Rafe is super-supportive, to the point where he felt like he had to transfer to all-boys boarding school on the other side of the country.  I don’t blame him at all for wanting to get away from it.

A really great example of what he has to deal with is Halloween one year.  He dresses up as an ’80’s rocker chick for Halloween, and everyone’s either uncomfortable (pretty much all of his classmates) or they see it as a statement (his teachers) while a couple of kids at his school (straight, if anyone’s wondering) did the same type of costume the previous Halloween, and everyone thought it was hilarious.

That was one thing that really stood out to me- the fact that he does it, and an uncomfortable statement, just because he’s gay, and yet, it’s really funny when someone who’s straight does it.  It’s something I never thought about before, and it made me sad that so many of his classmates were uncomortable with his costume.  And that people saw it as a statement, even though he didn’t mean it that way- he just thought it would be a great costume.  It’s amazing how people see a type of costume differently, just because of who’s wearing it, and I can totally see people reacting the way they did.

I knew pretty early on that not telling his new classmates he’s gay was going to backfire, especially when he starting falling for his classmate Ben.  Him hiding it was going to end disastrously, and I’m not surprised that it really messes up his relationship with Ben.  However, I really like the message that hiding even a piece of who you are never ends well, and can cause a lot of pain.  And that replacing one label with another can be just as bad, if not worse, than the one you’re trying to get rid of.

I did find myself really frustrated with Rafe at times.  By the end of the book, I was finding myself really frustrated with how he was so tired of people making a big deal out of the fact that he was gay.  I understand where he’s coming from, but at the same time, I felt like he took so much for granted.  With all of the news recently, with teens killing themselves because of bullying, I really felt like Rafe didn’t realize how lucky he was that he wasn’t bullied and that everyone in his life was supportive.  His parents are really accepting- they even threw him a coming out party!

It did make me think about whether being really supportive has a negative effect.  It’s still better than the alternative, of course, but is it possible to be too supportive?  It certainly is in Rafe’s case.  It did feel like everyone in Colorado was trying too hard to show how supportive they were, and it just made them feel stereotypical and flat.

Still, even though I’m not too fond of Rafe, sometimes, we learn by making mistakes.  And I really feel for him.  He didn’t want to be defined by his sexuality, and yet, that’s all people seem to expect- that it should define him.  You see it more in the flashbacks of his life in Colorado, but I am curious about how it relates to his life at boarding school now  that he’s come out to his new classmates.

Let’s Rate It:

I do have mixed feelings.  There are things I like (don’t be someone you’re not, we all have to deal with labels, regardless of who you are) but those are overshadowed by other things, like how much Rafe seemed to take for granted, how uber-supportive everyone else was, and how predictable certain things were.  I will say that he did seem to appreciate how lucky he is to have the parents he does, and that certain things needed to be predictable in order for him to realize that he needed to be himself- his whole self and not just part of it.  But it still took away from the story a little bit.  I still recommend it, because I did start thinking about things I would never think to think about.  Openly Straight gets 3 stars.

Book Review: I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You The Sun CoverBook: I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Published September 2014 by Dial|259 pages

Where I Got It: I checked out the e-book from the library!

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary/LGBT

Check out I’ll Give You The Sun on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell 

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways…until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

What I Thought:

After reading The Sky Is Everywhere ages ago and loving it and anxiously awaiting Jandy Nelson’s next book, I finally read I’ll Give You The Sun.

Unfortunately, I’m kind of torn between not really liking it and thinking it was okay.  I really wanted to like it more, because I did love The Sky Is Everywhere.

I did like that Noah and Jude narrated the book.  It’s different from a lot of other multiple narrators in that Noah and Jude are on a different timelines.  Because I don’t pay attention to summaries or anything, I thought it meant that Noah had died or something really bad happened to him because of that timeline, and it took a while for me to realize he was still alive.  But then I was more confused, because if he’s alive, why didn’t he really appear in Jude’s timeline?

It is an interesting way to tell a story, but it didn’t completely work for me.  On the one hand, I do kind of like that they have two different pieces of the story, but at the same time, I felt like the story wasn’t completely there for me because of it.

I just don’t know how I feel about I’ll Give You The Sun.  I was expecting something that more like The Sky Is Everywhere, which I connected so much with, and I really wanted that connection in this book.  That connection did happen, but not until the last 4 or 5 pages, and at that point, I wondered where that was for the rest of the novel.

I didn’t care for Noah or Jude, and I found that Noah randomly titling the scene as a painting to be really annoying, while Jude’s tendency to quote her grandmother’s book was quite.  I did feel for Noah, and I understand how and why he became the person he did.  He had a lot to deal with, especially since Noah is gay, and we see him struggle with how he presents himself to the world.  With Jude, I felt like she stayed relatively the same.  They didn’t feel genuine in the way the characters in her previous novel did.

Let’s Rate It:

Overall, I’ll Give You The Sun just isn’t my book.  I thought the way the story was told was interesting, and a big part of why I kept reading was because 1- I loved the author’s previous book to pieces and gave this one a chance that I probably would not have given it otherwise, and 2- I did want to know what happened and why things fell apart.  I think this book turned out okay for me.  I’ll Give You The Sun gets 2 stars.

Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Afterworlds CoverBook: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Published September 2014 by Simon Pulse|413 pages

Where I Got It: checked out the e-book from the library!

Series: None

Genre: YA- Half Paranormal/Half Contemporary

You can find Afterworlds on goodreads

Goodreads Summary: 

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Scott Westerfeld comes a smart, thought-provoking novel-within-a-novel that you won’t be able to put down.

Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finishes her book, faces critique, and falls in love.

Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved and terrifying stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love – until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about most.

What I Thought:

Afterworlds really is a unique book!  It’s a novel-within-a-novel, and there is something very meta about this entire book.

I’m really not kidding.  I did get the sense that Westerfeld was poking a bit at YA tropes and just the YA community in general, but in a really good way.

I don’t even know how to begin reviewing this book…but I guess I should start with Darcy’s story.  I really liked her story, and I liked seeing her navigate New York and the publishing world, especially with the help she finds in other awesome writers.  I don’t know what that world is like, but it is one that feels so real, like that’s what it is like for one person- and it really felt like bits and pieces of it may have come from Westerfeld’s own experience as a YA writer.

I also liked that we saw Darcy over the course of a year, and how much she went through with her book and her personal life. And I loved that in quite a few ways, her life intertwined with Lizzie’s story, and how much Darcy and Lizzie had in common. Which does make sense, since Lizzie is one of Darcy’s characters.  They both had these really big things happen that would change their lives, and I liked seeing both of their stories.

I really like that we not only see Darcy working on Afterworlds but that we get the actually Afterworlds story! And not just an excerpt or quotes but the full novel.  It was kind of disorienting at first, because you get thrown into both stories, and there’s nothing to indicate which story you’re reading.  But the two stories are so different that I knew which story was which in no time.

I also liked Lizzie’s story, especially at the beginning.  It’s so weird, because I really liked Darcy’s story as the book went on, and I liked Lizzie’s story less as the book went on.  Still, it’s an interesting way to tell a story, and I think there was a lot of potential for it to not work.  For me, it worked a lot better than I could have expected or imagined, but I think the way it’s told isn’t for everyone.  Given that Afterworlds is such a big part of Darcy’s life, and different aspects of it come up throughout the book, it makes sense that we would see Darcy’s story.  It would be a very different book if we didn’t have her fictional story, and Lizzie’s story helps Darcy’s story come to life.  Both stories need each other, and you see the effects that each story has on the other one.

I found the conversations about re-telling myths and stories that are part of a culture to be not your own to be really interesting, especially given all of the recent discussions about reading diversely.  Like, it’s okay that Darcy re-tells stories from Hinduism, because her family is from India (even though Darcy herself doesn’t seem particularly religious, and her family, from what we see of them, don’t seem to be particularly religious either).  I have no idea why I find it super-interesting, but I do.  Also, I love that her family is totally cool with Darcy having a girlfriend, and that it wasn’t a big deal when Darcy told them.

Let’s Rate It:

I really liked Afterworlds, and how you needed both stories in order to tell the other one.  I liked seeing how Darcy’s life and Lizzie’s life intertwine, and how both stories have an effect on the other one.  Darcy’s story is easily 5 stars, while I’d really have to give Lizzie’s story 3 stars, so overall, Afterworlds gets 4 stars.