Cover of One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva. Two marionettes shaped like a couple of young men, smile at each other

About the Book

Title: One Man Guy (One Man Guy #1)
Published: 2014

Cover Story: I’m a Real Boy Now!
Drinking Buddy: Genatz!
Testosterone Level: LGBT Who Cares?
Talky Talk: Cue Laugh Track
Bonus Factors: Armenia, Awesome Female BFF
Bromance Status: Good Friend’s Annoying Boyfriend

Cover Story: I’m a Real Boy Now!

Okay, the picture of Alek and Ethan as marionettes is totally adorable, and they look just like they’re described in the book. But I don’t really get the Pinocchio thing.

The Deal:

Fourteen-year-old Alek knows something is up, the second his parents take him and his brother out to dinner. Armenians never go out to dinner. Seems that Alek’s grades have slipped. Not a lot, but enough that he might not end up on the honor track. So Alek is going to be going to summer school this year. He’ll be missing tennis camp…and the family vacation. Unlike his older brother Nik, the perfect Armenian son.

Consoled by his best friend Becky, Alek buckles down for weeks of academic misery. Until he meets upperclassman Ethan. Ethan the skater. Ethan the slacker. Ethan, who shows Alek how to break the rules and enjoy New York City. Ethan the hottie. Ethan the out and proud gay guy.

Alek has been kind of struggling with his own sexuality. There’s a wonderful awkward scene where he tries to come out to Becky and she thinks he’s coming on to her…finally!

But awkwardness aside, can Alek throw off the chains of trying to be a good Armenian boy and start dating a non-Armenian of the same sex?

Drinking Buddy: Genatz!

Two pints of beer cheersing

I liked Alek, but I wouldn’t hang out with him. I kept expecting the blowup with his parents a lot sooner, and when it finally came, it was more about defending brother Nik and his girlfriend, rather than Alek’s own life choices. Seriously, you’ve been kicked off the family vacation. The emotional blackmail alone should get him awesome Christmas presents for the rest of his life.

Still, he’s likeably awkward, and when he lets his parents push him around, well, he is only a freshman.

Testosterone Level: LGBT Who Cares?

Yet another LGBTQ YA book that’s about people, not sexuality. Ethan is cool enough that Alek is accepted by proxy. Becky is merely annoyed that he didn’t come out to her sooner. As for Alek’s parents (spoiler alert), they’re angry when they find out he’s dating a bad boy…because he’s bad, not that he’s a boy.

“And don’t for a moment think this excuses you from providing us with grandchildren!”

Talky Talk: Cue Laugh Track

Let’s see, a sheltered person whose parents are totally obsessed with the old country. They love America, while finding fault with all Americans. The hero breaks out of their shell, takes a class, and ends up dating a great guy whom the parents initially don’t like. The hero has a perfect older sibling who constantly shows up the hero, but is also protective, and when it comes down to it, is always in their corner.

Movie poster for My Big Fat Greek Wedding

All that aside, Alek’s Armenian family were so stereotypically ‘ethnic’ that they would make a sitcom writer cringe. They torture waitresses with insane requests. They gossip and backstab. They resent all things Turkish. They’re obsessed with their sons’ schooling. I think the author was trying to highlight his own Armenian heritage, but the parents came off as caricatures. The same ethnic humor we’ve seen in a hundred bad TV shows about wacky Italian/Jewish/Hispanic/Arabic/Korean/Polish/Indian families.

Bonus Factor: Armenia

Flag of Armenia

You have to admit, this is certainly an underused ethnic group in YA literature. And one with a rich history. Did you ever hear of the Armenian Genocide? Over a million Armenians were killed by the Ottomans during the first World War. Alek’s parents certainly remember, they lost family there. So when Nik reveals that his perfect, wonderful, Armenian girlfriend is actually half-Turkish…it’s a big problem.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Female BFF

Screenshot from Mean Girls, with Janis and Damian sitting together on the grass

So Becky has been Alek’s BBF forever. And yeah, she was hoping she’d end up as more, but she’s supportive when she realizes that’s not going to happen. But it’s Alek’s loss, because she’s all kind of awesome. The crazy-dressing, roller blading, film buff who always has Alek’s back. Her character is the most likeable in the book by far.

Bromance Status: Good Friend’s Annoying Boyfriend

I liked the book, but more for the message than for the main characters. And for Becky, of course.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor booze for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.