One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva ( web )
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux (Macmillan Kids)
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Armenian culture, LGBT, summer school, NYC, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley
Summary: When Alek’s parents spring summer school attendance on him so he can stay on the honors track next year, he’s totally bummed to be missing out on camp, hanging out with his best friend (the boisterous Becky!), and the big family vacation. But things get interesting when Ethan, a notorious bad boy/skater kid, shows up in Alek’s algebra class and the two hit it off.
I don’t know if it’s possible for me to convey just how adorable One Man Guy is. But I’m going to try.
Alek is 14 and forced into summer school because his parents want him to stay on the honors track next year at school. He’s not a bad student. He’s had a hard time transitioning from middle school to high school, and can’t seem to get the hang of things. So instead of a summer of freedom & a family vacation, he’s stuck taking classes and doing homework.
If it hadn’t been for his parents’ meddling, he never would have ended up in algebra with Ethan, a kid with a reputation for being a troublemaker and slacker, but who also just saved his ass a few days ago when one of Ethan’s jerk friends tries to pick a fight with Alek. Alek is curious about Ethan, and it’s not until a particularly gutsy move on his part that the two spark a friendship.
Okay. One thing I really liked about One Man Guy is that Alek wasn’t someone who was soul searching about his sexuality. He mentions having girlfriends, and while he is pretty riveted with Ethan, he doesn’t know try to figure out what he means. He just goes with it. Letting go and defying his parents with secret trips to NYC gives him new insight into his feelings and what his relationship with Ethan really means to him.
Everything about Ethan and Alek’s transition from friendship to relationship felt natural. Ethan needed a dose of Alek’s responsibility and, in turn, Alek benefited from Ethan’s sense of adventure. Even if it went against everything his very strict parents trust him to do. But it was kind of fun to see Alek let loose and fall in love with Ethan AND New York City. (Um, their dates were adorable.)
Another great detail of the book was Alek’s family. They are Armenian, and his parents are very quick to dismiss “the silly Americans” who think baking from scratch means using a mix. His mom is also the kind of lady who will need to know all the details of the water served at your restaurant before she agrees to have that water. I loved their dialogue and how all of their personalities popped off the pages. There was this struggle to embrace old school ideals and assimilate to this day in this world. Alek thinks his parents are mostly unreasonable, and for a 14 year old kid, I could see that being true. It’s a whole other layer of pressure to be perfect at yet another thing. (Alek can never compete with his “angelic” older brother either.)
While One Man Guy felt a bit preachy at times and has a good amount of expository passages (a shame because the dialogue was so fresh), I loved watching Alek have this turning point summer. He learned a ton about himself, the people around him, and even got a brand new wardrobe. (I couldn’t help but mention this — I love shopping and mini-makeovers!) It’s also nice to see that while One Man Guy is a book about sexuality that there are so many other plotlines that come into play here. Also a quick shout out to Alek’s best friend, Becky, who loves classic films (and is a supportive and outgoing gal). So fun!
Did I mention this a debut from Barakiva? Can’t wait to see what he does next!