LGBTQIA+, YA

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

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If you haven’t read Openly Straight there could be some spoilers ahead. Fair warning. I need to refer to the end right now to explain why I didn’t want a sequel to Openly Straight. I thought the ending was perfect because it was realistic. Rafe has his reasons for doing everything he does but that does not make it right at all. Rafe puts Ben through too much. I didn’t want Ben to run back to him.Ben’s reaction at the end of Openly Straight is so warranted in my opinion and I loved that we didn’t get that happily ever after. I had a strong feeling that would turn around in this book because it happens in things like this.

Ben’s narration is better than Rafe’s. That feels blasphemous to say but I don’t even remember why I liked Rafe’s so much. I think with Openly Straight I enjoyed the story and the discussion it brought up but had some issues with Rafe. He’s really privileged in being able to just switch schools so easily when he wants to change how people sees him. He has to money to just go to this pretty expensive private school and pretend to be someone different than he is.

Ben deals with so much pressure. You could see that a bit in openly Straight but don’t really understand it until you read more on Ben. He has a family that is overbearing. A father that puts really toxic ideas in his head and a mother who lets it happen for years. They are in the running for the worse YA parents on the year award in my superlatives later this year. Don’t think they will win but top three right now.

Be Happy just not too happy. Don’t get a big head or you aren’t allowed to show that you are happy about things you’ve accomplished.Carver’s can’t afford this. Carver’s aren’t vulnerable.Carver’s don’t talk about their feelings. Carver’s don’t need extra help.  Everything in Ben’s life is framed by what his father has told him. Ben is so reserved and pretty bad at sticking up for himself at times and I quickly saw it’s because he believes and follows the things his father has told him completely. Ben has several bad habits he picks up because of his father that are a result of all of this.

Everything in Ben’s life is framed by what his father has told him. Ben is so reserved and pretty bad at sticking up for himself at times and I quickly saw it’s because he believes and follows the things his father has told him completely. Ben has several bad habits he picks up because of his father that are a result of all of this.

Through all this Ben is able to deliver a narrative with some great humor and some other beautiful moments. He’s a really great character. Seeing his emotional journey was compelling. Seeing his personal arc was compelling.

One thing that I’m glad was really highlighted in this book was privilege. I feel like it is talked about a bit in the first book. Ben’s roommate leaves the school for reasons that were somewhat related to being the only black kid at this private all boys school and I remember liking the conversations that happen around it. Ben finally calling Rafe out for some of the things that he says made me very happy.

I didn’t think the book was biphobic but can see how it could be harmful to people because it does contain biphobic comments from several characters.  Ben doesn’t deny the existence of bi people. I’m fairly certain his uncle was bisexual and that is pointed out a few times. Ben just doesn’t see himself as bi or gay. The conversations on labels are being continued from the first book in an interesting way. At the end of the day, Ben should be allowed to label or not label himself whatever he wants and people should respect that.

Rafe and his family do say things that are biphobic. Plus other people in the book as well.Biphobia happens. People experience it. I think every time Ben’s reaction is showing that it is wrong even if the people around him keep doing it. I felt like this worked back into the conversation with Rafe’s privilege really well. It was frustrating in a similar way.  If this book did hurt you I’m really sorry that it did and I’m not trying to diminish that at all.

It was revealed that Toby is genderfluid. I was so excited by this. They really were on of my favorite characters in the first book. I raved about Toby and how I’d want Toby to be my friend in a book tag I filmed recently. Not many side characters stand out to me like Toby has. This made so much sense to me from the Toby I saw in the first book.

Konigsberg also reveals that Toby’s friend Alby is Asexual. Toby states that he is. I’d like more confirmation. There are not enough Ace characters at all. As someone on the Ace spectrum, it was still nice to see. I would love a Toby or Alby centered book honestly. I think I would have been more excited for a Toby centered sequel. Toby had other interesting things going on in the first book that were not touched on here. We just don’t get a chance to see Toby enough because he doesn’t have the biggest connection to Ben.

Speaking of connections to Ben. I do see Ben and Rafe’s connection but am still skeptical about how well the two could work long term. I liked the ending of the first book because it wasn’t that magical fix like I said. I know people shipped it and wrote fanfics of the two getting back together but I never thought it should happen and even as I liked seeing them become friends and close again I still struggle to feel that they are a pairing that could work for long.

 

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