One Man Guy is about a fourteen-year-old named Aleksander Khederian, or simply Alek. He comes from an Armenian household with his mom, currently unemployed dad, and older brother Nik. One day right before summer starts, his parents finally agree to take Alek out to a restaurant he was interested in, and their hesitation was not because of the cost of eating out, but because Armenians pride themselves on making perfect food, so much so that the idea of paying for food they could make better repulses them. The occasion is that Alek is going to have to go to summer school, not because he failed or even got bad grades, just grades not good enough to make honor track. This means that he’ll have to miss out on tennis camp, which he was promised he could do, and the family vacation! His only light is his best friend Becky, a cheerful rollerblader who loves Diet Dr. Pepper and classic rom-coms, and never lets anyone insult or dismiss her and forgets to warn others about the consequences, and Ethan, a guy also in summer school a little older than Alek who took an interest in him after he almost got beat up by one of his friends a few days before summer school. When they introduce themselves, it seems they’re now friends, and Alek’s tremendously happy, especially considering how cool he is, the perpetrator of a food fight, a skateboarder and as sly as a raccoon. One day Ethan invites Alek to cut school with him to New York City, and after Ethan snatches him onto the train when Alek decides he just can’t, Alek soon realizes he has more feelings for Ethan rather than just friendship, and Ethan might share them.
Michael Barakiva’s writing is so clever that you either sometimes feel you’re reading a play (he’s the author of some plays, as well) with the characters interacting both believably and extremely, and he’s lived some or most of these things with the exact proper wording and timing in mind. He knows, like the different kisses in this book, when to be simple, when to be subtle and when to be deep. He has the type of writing style I like; sometimes very long sentences, and charming in how long yet clear and fun they are to read. There are also a lot of kisses in this book, and there have been books in the past where I’ve criticized them for being so infatuous with the relationship of the two lovers that the repetition of “She’s-beautiful”s gets rid of the specialness of the romance and turns every love paragraph into a cliche. But it’s not quite the same here because every kiss is described a little differently, and neither person is technically doing anything the other doesn’t want.
Not many books these days have a white male teenage protagonist, and these days in the young-adult genre, a lot of the points of view will not be of them but of girls being pushed into a situation they don’t want, and these days more and more people of colour. That isn’t really a bad thing. White males like me were born into a world that gives them unfair advantages over others in most parts of the world, so some readers might at first be taken aback by Alek’s tantrums when he has lots of food on the table and a family with enough money to support him and give him some luxuries. But Barakiva writes it in such a relatable way that it’s hilarious, making the conflicts and arguments Alek ends up in feeling authentic enough for us not to care about his ethnicity. When he ends up in a fight, and is judged by his family, we’re rooting for him and we feel bad for him.
Even though I’m a picky eater (I don’t like cheese in general, nor sauce, nor sweet meat, like meat covered in honey or barbecue sauce, and I don’t often like when a lot of different things are mashed together) my tongue still watered from all the food. It makes you respect Armenians, even if they’re as headstrung and condescending as three fourths of the Khederians. Barakiva has a sweet tooth for all this stuff, proof you should write what you know.
So what is it about the romance between Alek and Ethan that is so fresh and adorable, besides the LGBT factor and the fact this was published all the way back in 2014? I think the reason I love it is because we see both of these guys aren’t quite picture perfect. Alek has a temper and Ethan can be a truant. Most romance novels have a love interest that is perfection almost to the point of plasticity, not feeling like the girl and the guy are on equal ground and that one of them reigns supreme. It’s true Ethan is about two years older than Alek, but Alek is the one that gets better grades and he makes the first move. Also, during a few times where they end up fighting, they find a way around it together. They also seem to want to make the other person happy simply because it would be the right thing to do, not just to simply get laid. Ethan also didn’t seem to have anyone else to turn to about a grievance he was facing but Alek listened to him...basically, because of these traits, whenever they kiss, you can feel the emotions and side stories from them too, and there are a lot of kisses in this book. Thank goodness they feel so pure. Also, there is sexual stuff in here, but it comes off as more cute than dirty, thinking about embraces rather than nudeness. That's how I really like romances.
We end up caring about Alek and Ethan so much that when something ends up slipping, we end up really worried this will end on a bad note and we feel somehow it just has to be mended. Just has to.
A criticism I had when I originally reviewed the book was I expected the ending to be different than it was, more fast-paced, but now I am against what I said. The ending has the perfect mixture of reality and toughness, of fear and courage, of sweetness and resolution, and makes you think about the importances combined with the calamities of history.
I don’t put this lightly; One Man Guy is the most adorable book I’ve ever read, with a romance so sweet the fact it’s two young teenagers and they got together quickly in circumstances does not matter. Only the most cynical and depressed readers will not finish it hopeful for romance and not feeling like they’ve been kissed on the cheek. Now I’ve gotta get back to reading Hold My Hand. Some stuff has gone down that I’m worried about, but I have the impression Barakiva knows what he’s doing.