By Michael Barakiva
Available now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR (Macmillan)
I read ONE MAN GUY this weekend while I was resting in bed, sick. It was the perfect sort of book to read in those circumstances, light and cute and sweet and so optimistic that I could forget that there is an emergency room bill on the way.
Alek Khederian is stuck in summer school, retaking English and Algebra to make it into the Honors track. His Armenian parents have high standards that are hard for Alek to live up to, especially when his brother Nic makes it look so easy. At summer school he gets to know Ethan, who runs with the DOs (dropouts). He's a relaxed guy, in sharp contrast to the uptight Alek. Of course, opposites attract.
I liked that ONE MAN GUY wasn't just about the relationship between Alek and Ethan, but that the relationship does affect many things going on in Alek's life. At fourteen, Alek is really just starting to blossom into his own person, especially given his strict parents. When the story begins, he's not even consciously aware that he likes guys. The slightly older Ethan helps him gain another perspective on life. At the same time, Alek definitely doesn't need to change everything about himself. He's got qualities that Ethan can learn from too.
Alek's home life is drawn with exquisite detail. There is food, church, celebrities, history marking Alek and his family as Armenian. There is dedication to never buying Turkish, due to the fact the Armenian genocide isn't recognized. It was a wonderful introduction to a culture I know little about. (And you know I am going to use the recipe for salmas in the back of the book.)
The descriptions of New York City are also top notch. Ethan is an expert at navigating the city, and he sets out to show Alek the sights. The use of real places adds to the verisimilitude of the novel and the boys' dates/not dates. They're certainly more revealing of each boy than simple dinner and a movie.
ONE MAN GUY is a great choice for romance fans. Unlike a true romance, the main focus is on Alek and his growth as he comes to terms with his sexuality and the difference between his ambitions and his parents' ambitions for him. (That does not mean Ethan is underdeveloped.) And I haven't even gone into some of the other great aspects of the novel, like Alek's classic movie and rollerblading-obsessed best friend Becky. ONE MAN GUY is a great pick for fans of romantic, contemporary YA novels.