One Man Guy by Michael BarakivaOne Man Guy. By Michael Barakiva. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014.

Alek Khederian is being tortured by his parents. Instead of going on vacation, his parents are making him take Math and English over in summer school so he can into the honor track. They tell him this over a dinner that is supposed to be special because they never eat out. His parents would rather cook their Armenian food at home then go to a restaurant that doesn’t use locally-sourced organic food and doesn’t have room temperature fizzy Evian. Alek can’t even feel like a normal kid out to dinner with his parents, because they are always complaining about these Americans this or that.

But things are about to get less normal. When Alek starts summer school he passes by the train station. On the other side of the underground pedestrian tunnel is “the other side of the tracks,” both literally and figuratively. A group nicknamed the Dropouts or the D.O. often skip school to skateboard on the ramps they built there. Alek is mesmerized by them, and then subsequently almost beat up. Ethan of the famed school food fight comes to his rescue. Ethan also turns out to be in Alek’s math class. Suddenly math doesn’t seem as bad. Ethan is also gay. Alek does not realize that he is yet. But, when Alek’s parents go on their vacation, he has the week to himself. Ethan challenges him to live his life the way he wants and a teenage adventure, romance, and rebellion are started.

This book is a little whiny at first, but I’m sure teens can relate to their parents embarrassing them and have weird rules and quirks that they don’t agree with. Then it gets good. The setting of New York City is really strong here and also stands for a symbol of everything Alek wants in life. It’s neat to see a person becoming himself as an individual. I also like the talks that Alek has with his best friend Lizzy, Ethan, and even (and surprisingly) his parents. They really get to different issues. I also like the string of the Armenian Genocide and how its history has affected his family’s lives. (Which is also really relevant with the Armenian Genocide’s 100th Anniversary this year) I also like that the two male characters are entirely okay with being gay. Ethan doesn’t flaunt it, but he makes fun of gay jokes, and he is totally secure in their relationship. Alek takes his newfound self-knowledge in stride and plays it really cool where many teens would not. Alek and Ethan are an unlikely couple who made it work really well together, despite their separate family and relational pasts. Alek is a great role model while also being really “real.” This book might show teens that something that could potentially be really scary can also be really amazing instead.

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