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Readers Advisory: One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0374356459, May 2014

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.

All hail the dawning of the era of the gay YA romcom! At least, I hope this story represents the advance guard of said era. Do we need stories about kids coming out and getting beat up or kicked out of their parents’ houses? Sure, because that’s the reality for some people, unfortunately. Does EVERY coming-out or first same-sex love story need to be a horror story, though? In that situation, where are the homosexual kids supposed to turn for light, fun reads about characters that represent them? More gay romcoms, please and thank you. Also more interracial…oh hey, this one’s also an interracial romcom! Hash tag we need diverse books, anybody?

On a non-soap-box note, this good guy/bad boy romance is sweet, light, and humorous, though rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Most of the comedic value comes from Alek’s straight-laced Armenian parents, but Barakiva keeps them from turning into raging stereotypes. In fact, the main barrier to Alec and Ethan’s relationship is the disapproval of the elder Khedarians, but not because Alek is gay. Instead, they have the (totally understandable under the circumstances) impression that Ethan is a bad influence on their precious, honorable boy. They have qualms about Alek’s brother’s girlfriend that are more based in prejudice. Although Alek and Nik (the brother) have the classic “our parents are prouder of you oh yeah well I’m under more pressure than you” sibling rivalry dynamic, they’re able to put aside their differences and save the day and their relationships with–what else?–a dinner party. Instead of paging Dr. Freud, this story pages Dr. Crane and Dr. Crane.

I wanted a little more crazy, a little more My Big Fat Greek Wedding from this story. Also, the boys spend a lot of time wandering around New York City praising its greatness in words I couldn’t picture any teenager, or many adults, using. It feels a bit like a visitor’s guide at times. Still, it’s an easy, fun read where no one’s ass gets kicked over their sexual orientation.

Recommend to: Romcom lovers

To buy or not to buy: A big hit of diversity–buy.

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