by Hal Patnott
This week’s review features the sequel to Openly Straight by Stonewall and Lambda Award-winning author Bill Konigsberg. Honestly Ben stands out for its achievement of more than one of ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), but it especially shines for the inclusive way Konigsberg explores the complexity of identity. Stop by the Butler Center to take a look at our advanced reader’s copy of Honestly Ben.
After winter break, Ben Carver returns to his boarding school still feeling betrayed by his ex-best friend Rafe who kept a big secret from him. Last semester Ben’s Calculus grade slipped to an unacceptable C-, when his social life got out of hand. With his father’s approval and a prestigious scholarship at stake, Ben is determined to leave Rafe in the past and focus on returning his GPA to perfection. However, his unresolved feelings for Rafe come back to haunt him as he develops a connection with an outspoken girl named Hannah. Ben struggles to understand his feelings and make sense of his identity in a society that demands he choose from labels that don’t fit him.
Companion novel to Openly Straight, Honestly Ben continues the story of Rafe and Ben from Ben’s perspective. Although the book takes place after Openly Straight, Ben’s narration provides enough context and setting that new readers can easily follow the story. The characters are well-developed and flawed, often for a lack of awareness of their own privilege. Still, Ben, Rafe, and their friends remain lovable and sympathetic. Plenty of humor keeps the story engaging too. Konigsberg explores the themes of identity, honesty, and bravery in a thought-provoking way without offering easy answers to readers. Honestly Ben deserves an A+. This must-read book for teens is a necessary addition to the library’s young adult collection.