Author: Michael Barakiva
Synopsis: Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.
Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.
Huge thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) and Netgalley for this advance reader copy.
I am a little torn with One Man Guy because I actually loved the majority of this book but there was one thing that surprisingly tested my nerves and did genuinely upset me.
First off, I love that the title of this book is a reference to Rufus Wainwright and I love and appreciated Barakiva discussing the history of the song “One Man Guy” as well as a bit of history about Rufus Wainwright as a performance artist. I am a huge lover of Rufus Wainwright and anytime the characters quote songs or discussed the meanings I found myself smiling and grinning.
I actually also loved the writing in this book as well. The flow and pacing were close to perfect, and it was easy to understand a lot of the culture aspects of the story. There’s no heavy handedness, Barakiva makes Armenian culture something accessible, understandable, and quite lovable with his cast of characters. I had particular love for Alek’s family, especially Nik, oddly but there were parts of him that reminded me of my older brother.
Alek’s character is handled beautifully, and I loved his how he was coming out of shell and growing into someone who he wanted to be comfortable with. I like that people weren’t automatically accepting, but understood in such a way where he was fortunate enough to have an awesome support system in his parents and Becky. A lot of his mannerism and behavior make perfect sense for growing fourteen year old who’s learning how to push his parent’s buttons a little but still try to be his own person.
In a lot of GLBT literature, there’s always the approch of parents hating that their kids are gay, or trying to un-gay them in some way. What I loved in Barakiva’s approach is how understanding and supportive they were in their son’s decision, even if right away they weren’t fond of Ethan. You get a genuine sense that they love and care regardless of sexual orientation, and that was so refreshing. For the most part the world that we see in Alek’s life is surprisingly positive which in these types of stories sometimes feels unheard of. I also loved Nik’s big reveal and how that handed — it was so sweet and I found myself cheering so happily. The ending of this book is also wonderful and perfect and I feel like it couldn’t have ended any other way.
I do want to talk about something that did upset me with the book and it threw me for a bit of a loop, but I struggled with Ethan’s character. I was not fond of his forceful behavior towards Alek, particularly when he was still trying to understand what it meant to be gay. He’d say things like he gets it, but then force Alek to kiss him or expose himself and the way the novel is written you get the sense of discomfort from Alek’s character, and I just didn’t like Ethan’s lack of respect. It made it harder for me to connect with him because you can see Alek trying to grow and become who he wants to be. This happens a few times in the story and I had a hard time with it.
However, when Ethan is being as sweet and as vulnerable as Alek, that was something I liked and appreciated. In fact, I love them as a couple when they are learning and exploring, so the forced aspects just threw me off. Ethan has some amazing insight for a man his age, and I like his attitude towards what it means to be gay and being true to who you are.
There’s a wonderful debut here and the story is so sweet. It’s a relationship the reader gets to see develop and unfold, without the insta-love crap that often YA often likes to push forth. While I wasn’t 100% fond of Ethan’s characterization, I still loved the cast of characters and the story that Barakiva presented. Plus it’s an easy read and all it asks for the most part is an open-mind and welcomes those with a cheeky sense of humor.