Barakiva, M. (2014). One Man Guy. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Plot Summary: The book tells the story of Alek an Armenian teen whose parents have forced him into summer school to ensure he makes the honors track like his perfect older brother Nik. He is disappointed because he will be missing tennis camp and his family vacation. Alek is frustrated with the pressure his family puts on him and how strict they are. One day he is contemplating breaking his parent’s rules when he wanders into the dropout’s territory and almost gets beat up for it. Luckily Ethan, one of the coolest guys in school, saves Alek. When summer school starts he repays Ethan by pointing out the teacher has made a mistake with the math question he has assigned Ethan and the boys’ unlikely friendship begins. After Ethan convinces Alek to ditch school to head into New York City the boys grow even closer and eventually begin dating. This isn’t easy for Alek as Ethan is the first guy he has been attracted to and he is worried what his parents will think when they find out. He is determined to enjoy some freedom though when his parents and older brother leave him home alone for the week while they go on their vacation with the other families from the Armenian Church. Things are going well for Alek and Ethan who have another adventure in New York including a makeover for Alek, unfortunately while they are enjoying their time alone Alek’s family come home early and walk in on him making out with Ethan. They kick Ethan out of the house and tell Alek they will talk to him in the morning. When morning comes his parents aren’t disappointed in Alek for being gay but they believe Ethan is a bad influence on him as their trips to New York involved skipping school. Alek is complaining to his older brother when he finds out that they came home early because Nik dumped his girlfriend when they discovered she was secretly half Turkish. Nik is disappointed in himself because he loves her but felt their parents would never accept her as the biggest family rule is hatred of the Turkish for the Armenian genocide. The brothers plan a home cooked meal to show their parents that Ethan really isn’t as bad as they think he is and that being half Turkish hasn’t actually changed who Nik’s girlfriend is. The dinner is very tense but ultimately the book has a happy ending with both brothers staying with their partners having received their parent’s reluctant blessings.
Critical Evaluation: The book has a simple writing style that does not use particularly difficult vocabulary or complex literary devices. The story unfolds in a simple strait forward manner. This makes is good for reluctant readers or for a simple quick read for more advanced readers. The subject matter itself is very age appropriate the characters behave in a way that is consistent with their age and maturity level. There is also good character development throughout the story as Alek comes to terms with his sexuality and his relationship with Ethan unfolds. There is an appropriate amount of drama and conflict in their relationship to keep it interesting and realistic but the boys handle it in a way that is steady with their age and maturity level. Alek’s brother, Nik, likewise shows some good character development when he talks to Alek about the pressures their parents put on both of them as part of an Armenian family. Both brothers show maturity in their way of standing up to their parents with the dinner they make and host to discuss their relationships. The one aspect of the book that came across as a bit unrealistic was the parent’s sudden acceptance of both Ethan and Nik’s girlfriend. While they initially showed some reluctance in banning Alek from seeing Ethan they clearly had no second thoughts about Nik ending his relationship. It is therefore very surprising that one minuet they are pointing out her family could be responsible for the brutal deaths of their family members and the next deciding to just let that go. Throughout the book the parents place a lot of emphasis on the importance of their family history so this out of character for them. Other than that the characters are well developed with clear motivations and character development.
Reader’s Annotation: Alek is convinced his summer is ruined when his strict Armenian parents sentence him to summer school. However, his summer may be saved when he makes an unlikely new friend Ethan and develops an even less likely crush on him.
Author Information: Michael Barakiva is primarily a theater director and One Man Guy is his first novel. In addition to his novel he also writes a blog about theater, food and outrage. He even shares a recipe in One Man Guy for Alek’s family’s stuffed grape leaves that he dedicated to his grandmother. Michael Barakiva is of Armenian and Israeli decent and lives in Manhattan with his husband.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Curriculum Ties: Armenian culture and history
Booktalk Ideas: 1) How family culture and history create traditions as well as expectations
2) Everyone in Alek’s life is pretty accepting when he comes out as gay how realistic is this?
Reading Level & Interest Level: The reading level is listed by Barnes and Nobel as being for ages 12 -17. I believe that due to the simpler writing slightly younger readers may also be interested in this book and that older readers may still be interested despite the simpler writing style due to the relatability of family pressures.
Challenge Issues: The book centers around a gay relationship which some object to on religious or moral grounds. However, it has been was named to the Rainbow List, Family Equality Council’s Book Nook, and the New York Public Library’s 2015 LGBTQ Youth Summer Reading List, as well as voted #1 LGBTQ YA Novel in 2014 by Goodreads (Barakiva, n.d.). The book is also great for adding diversity to a library’s collection due to the Armenian culture and history discussed in the book.
Why is it included?: This book is a great choice for adding diversity to a library collection. It is an obvious choice for book lists and displays of LGBT books. Additionally it provides great insight into Armenian culture and history and the family pressure Alek is under is relatable to readers from all cultures.
Resources: Barakiva, M. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved July 5, 2015, from http://www.michaelbarakiva.com/