Self-discovery is rarely easy for a straight boy in love with a boy.
Ok. Here we go.
We’re back at Natick, but this time with Ben.
Ben has spent the winter break at home with his family. He gives advice to his brother that if said brother wants to hang out with Julie (the girl everyone calls “dumptruck”) that he can do that.
Back at Natick, things are weird. He and Rafe are not talking, and Ben feels that loss and the loss of Toby and Albie. However, baseball season is starting. Ben plays for the team and is good but quiet. He gets nominated to be the team leader (I swear there’s a better term for this that I just can’t remember) and wins the vote.
Ben has also been chosen to receive the Pappas Award slash scholarship, named after a former student who enlisted in Vietnam.
Ben meets a girl named Hannah, and the two are intrigued by one another. They trade numbers and agree to meet up.
Ben is struggling in Calculus. He doesn’t really understand, and his teacher is no help when he tries to talk to her about it (“you just need to study harder”).
So Ben starts dating Hannah, studying Calculus like crazy, tries to lead the baseball team, and eventually reconnects with Rafe. They decided to try being best friends again. There are just some things they can’t talk about: Rafe’s boyfriend J (omg forgot his name) and Ben’s girlfriend Hannah. Ben tells Hannah about the Rafe debacle. She’s cool with it.
A spring fling is thrown. Ben takes Hannah, Rafe takes J. J breaks up with Rafe. Ben feels like he needs to comfort his friend and asks Hannah if its ok. She’s not super on board with the idea but tells him he can but then she’s leaving. So Ben goes to comfort Rafe, but as he watches Hannah leave he thinks maybe he shouldn’t have made this choice. The boys go to the beach and yell at the sky.
When Ben next talks to Hannah she’s pissed at him. She doesn’t like that Ben chose Rafe over her. Ben doesn’t totally understand what she’s saying and she gives him an implicit ultimatum: Hannah or Rafe. Ben keeps putting off calling Hannah after this conversation because he doesn’t want to have the talk with her about what he’s feeling. In the end, Ben chooses Rafe and breaks up with Hannah.
Ben has been learning about Peter Pappas (the boy the award is named after) and has discovered that he was anti-war. He tracks down Peter’s sister and learns that Peter enlisted in order to keep his father’s love/approval. Ben draws a lot of parallels with Peter Papas.
Ben is still struggling in Calculus.
Ben and Rafe go out on a date (to a coffeehouse poetry slam) and spend the night together. The day after Ben and Rafe are splitting up and Rafe says “I love you” but Ben doesn’t say it back.
So naturally, Rafe needs to have a talk with Ben (right before his Calculus test that his award is riding on) about how he can’t be with someone and not be with them again. This sends Ben into a depressive spiral. He goes to Mendenhall (one of the baseball guys) and gets the answer key to the test. After he cheats, he ends up in a depressive funk and doesn’t leave his room for a day.
Ben and Rafe eventually talk, and Rafe realizes he was perhaps pushing Ben too far too fast.
Ben’s award speech is more a confession of how he cheated to get his award, and the truth about Peter Papas than anything. Ben gets suspended. His father is “embarrassed to be his father.” Ben also confesses to loving Rafe. Ben’s dad tells him that Carver men are straight and that if he’s not straight then he’s not a Carver (and no son of his) and that if he may never talk to Rafe again.
Ben goes home with his family, Rafe goes to Boston to wait for his flight the next day. Ben confronts his father, and it goes about as well as you’d expect (not well at all). So Ben decides to take Rafe up on his offer to go to Colorado together and leaves his family behind.
Rafe’s parents are awesome (though don’t get that Ben isn’t gay/bi). Ben doesn’t know what his life is going to be, but at least he has Rafe.
I’ve got to say, I think I liked Openly Straight better. I really wanted to read this one, but knew that I had to read that one first. I’m pretty sure I just found Rafe and his situation more relatable than Ben’s situation. I mean, this is one of my favorite tropes (OMG I’m totally not gay but I have feelings for this guy!?!!!?), but… I don’t know. I just think due to Ben’s character and his general separation from his own feelings, that the book left me kind of not feeling it.
Not to say that this wasn’t a good read, because it was. This just wasn’t my favorite read.
So, I did like that we got Ben’s perspective on things. Being able to see into his head was a really nice change of pace. His character got more fleshed out than he was in Openly Straight. We also got more of Rafe, and it was really interesting to see him through Ben’s eyes, it gave him some extra depth that he was perhaps missing before.
I liked that we got some more Toby and Albie (though more the former than the later). They weren’t super fleshed out in Ben’s tale, but Toby’s story arc was a nice counterpoint at the end of the story.
I really enjoyed (?!?) getting Ben’s perspective on the baseball dudes (and his confusion on how interacting with them works). Sure, none of them was really fleshed out, but they really didn’t need to be.
Natick, of course, was still as vague as ever. I mean, I don’t need all the minutia of school life (oh god please no), but I sometimes feel it was glossed over just a little much for me. And really, I wonder about the rules on leaving campus…
The point being, I was a little let down, and a little disconnected, but it was still a nice story. The ending is super open ended, and lord knows how Ben’s life is going to turn out, but it wasn’t a bad place to stop the story.
What’s in a Name by Ellen Wittlinger
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Straight boy in love with another boy and struggling with it.
Book Discussion Questions and Ideas
Let’s talk about Ben’s dad and his relationships with his family.
What do you think of Ben’s conclusion on his own sexuality?
Were there any parts of this book that seemed unrealistic?
Why I Chose It
Honestly, I wanted to read this one but figured I should start with the first book first and then get to this one. I’m kind of a sucker for the trope (straight with one exception).
There is a possibility of this book bringing up Bi Erasure. Be aware that this is a big thing for Bi people, also be aware that the author has written a blog post in response to this. I happen to agree with him (that for Ben, he’s not Bi, he’s just attracted to one boy), but I can see why there would be controversy and why some people could be upset. Be aware of your own biases, and understand that unless you are a Bi person yourself, you might not truly understand where they’re coming from and why they’re upset.
Also be aware that some people may not be happy that the author never really names or addresses the issues that come up with Ben’s father (Abuse?).