One Man Guy
One Man Guy is much like Mary Poppins, in that it’s practically perfect in every way, though obviously not otherwise much like Mary Poppins at all. (I saw the musical recently, in case you’re wondering why this randomness is happening.) One Man Guy is like the YA, LGBTQ+, Armenian version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so basically it’s the cutest and the banteriest and all about culture.
Alek is Armenian, from the tips of his unruly, thick curly hair down to his feet. As a good Armenian boy does, he focuses on his studies, does his chores, wears clothes his mother picked out, and generally tries to follow every rule. Even so, Alek’s the bad kid. His older brother, Nik, is perfect, and Alek feels like he always gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Trying to be perfect and failing has Alek feeling inferior and unloved, especially when his parents announce that he has to take summer school to get his grades up instead of going on the family vacation.
Barakiva’s debut is one hundred percent banterlicious from the very first page when Alek’s family goes out to dinner and proceeds to judge the restaurant very harshly. I fell in love at sentence two: “He smelled marinara sauce and a trap.” The tone is light and funny throughout, even when the subject matter gets objectively heavy. The comparison to My Big Fat Greek Wedding lies primarily in this sweet spot of humor and love and frustration for both family and culture. Alek’s trying to find a way to be himself, both Armenian and American, without upsetting his parents.
One Man Guy really does get into the family issues. Due to the vacation, Alek’s parents leave him alone for most of a week, which obviously means shenanigans, but they are very present. His parents are obviously loving, but they have their own prejudices and back stories. For example, the refrain of These Americans cracked me up every time. The dynamic of the family just felt so real throughout. I talk a lot about romantic banter, but Barakiva has banter coming from parents, love interests and friends. I love it so.
Also, I thought it was wonderful how Barakiva worked the Armenian Genocide into the novel. I actually took a course on genocide as part of my history major, so I did know about it previously. I even have a book by Peter Balakian on my shelves. However, most teens wouldn’t have any idea; certainly my high school history text books didn’t mention it. More than just educating, Barakiva brings up tough ethical questions like how the Armenians should react to the Turkish now. That makes the book sound super depressing, but I swear he manages to work all of this in without making the tone too dark.
The romance is just the cutest. I mean, I won’t go down with this ship, but I think Ethan’s the perfect guy for Alek to first fall for. When they first meet, Alek doesn’t even know he’s gay, and can’t really identify that the feelings he’s having when he sees Alek are in fact lust. SO CUTE. It also gives me much joy how non-stereotyped they are and I love that Ethan is out and proud and accepted by the school badasses. Most LGBT books tend to focus on coming out or not being accepted, but One Man Guy really focuses on the positive. The fact that much of it takes place in New York City aids this. Oh, btw, this book is a total love letter to New York City on top of everything else.
The Final Verdict:
Those of you who love adorable contemporary romances jam-packed with banter must read One Man Guy. Also a must if you’ve been aching for some LGTBQ+ fiction that will not make you sad. Instead, One Man Guy will leave you with a smile on your face.
I really liked all of the details of Armenian culture, from the recipes to the historical references. The New York City setting is more interesting to an outsider than many I have read. Alek's relationship with Ethan is middle grade appropriate. I liked how they really were friends before they became romantically involved. And it involves skateboarding!