It will be easiest if I come out at the start and say that I love just about everything about this book. Because I learned while reading, coming out and saying it at the end cheapens a bit of the commentary that precedes.
Rafe doesn't like labels. He is openly gay and after two years of high school he only wants to be a boy; not a gay boy. He feels there is more to him as a person than to be forever identified by his sexual preference. He doesn't want to go back in the closet; just hide out in the threshold for a while.
I'm not sure if this idea qualifies for high concept but it is both socially aware and very very, fresh. Rafe enrolls in an all boy boarding school on the other side of the country essentially to carry out an experiment: what exactly does being gay mean to him and can he be gay without being defined by the word.
No one knows Rafe is gay at his new school. He's not denying that he is; he's just not telling anyone. He finds himself playing football and soccer and hanging out with guys that he would deem jocks, and having the time of his life. He becomes a jock. And then he starts to question the labels and labeling that he ran away from to being with. Gay; Straight; Jock; Nerd; Winner; Loser; weirdo; etc…
There are lot of really good ideas being expressing in this book. Rafe's situation, where he's lying to himself and everyone else by omission. Bryce, the school's token black kid, and his depression. And my favorite discussion at the end where much was said about marching in parades and why some people choose to do so and others don't. The book is more than merely a great title.
However, I didn't think any of the conflict was fully indulged. I couldn't tell if the author wanted to suggest thoughts to the reader and let the reader go from there or if he felt his points were made and so he'd move on to the next one. (That is certainly not how I felt.)
The story focus on Rafe falling in love with Ben. There are extremely close and Ben is starting to wonder how close 'close' can be. Rafe knows what he wants but he's stuck between telling the truth and pissing Ben off, or keeping his secret and dealing with the anxiety of knowingly lying to someone he truly cares for. The relationship aspect is really well done.
My primary complaint is Rafe's sheer intelligence and the fact that he never saw himself as aggressively vapid and shallow as he views everyone else. He labels absolutely everyone--right down to all the stereotypes of being named Kaitlin, Brittany, or Ashley--and is happy to do so as long as no one labels him gay. He definitely carries a bit of 'high and mighty' greater-than-thou attitude on his shoulders and does so with no regard for how much a jerk he may come off to anyone else. In essence he 'struts.' My dislike for his character should not suggest that he was poorly drawn, but I certainly didn't love him as much as his eccentric hippie parents do.
"A lot of the kids, Steve included, seemed to be writing that down, and I almost laughed. It was like, 'This isn't going to be on a test,' dummies. Listen. Stop worrying about memorizing things you don't even understand. I turned my eyes to Scarborough, and I watch as he saw the same thing I did. I could see that the class's silence was even more disappointing to him." Page 142 Scarborough was the teacher twenty something years Rafe's senior.
He even gets worse than that… I kept thinking that in addition to realizing that he couldn't suppress such a large part of his identity that Rafe would realize something to the affect of "Hey! I'm a shallow sixteen-year old prick too!" Because I felt that would have had more emotional impact on his growing up process than suppressing his sexual preference.
There's a second narrative in the book, one that Rafe writes for his English teacher, Scarborough, who is the only person on campus that knows he's gay. It deals with Rafe looking back to how he got here and draws so much attention to itself that it was almost as if the author wanted to explain--and even worse, justify--his writing style to reader while the reader was reading the book. Happily, these sections were short.
My final gripe is dialogue and what I always say about well-written 'chatty' books and why I stay away from them. The dialogue is perfect. P-E-R-F-E-C-T. Which is as far away from real human speech as one could possibly be. No one in this book--not a soul--ever reflects and says, "ya know what I should've said/done/acted thusly…" They have the perfect, witty reply, snarky remark, clever comment queued up to go at any given time and it's wholly unrealistic. Konigsberg's characters are very well drawn but about as believably sixteen as Cassandra Claire's.
So I've done some complaining, cause that's my style, which means I liked it. I checked this book out from the library, but since I believe in supporting the authors I really like I've since bought my own copy.
Oh, and Rafe, at your age--or any age--if you ever find yourself in a novel again, you only get to say 'non sequitur' out loud once. Or preferably never… SINCE NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT!
It's only August but this is probably my book of the year.