3.5 stars Try as I might, I can only think of several YA books with LGBTQ main characters that really took my breath away. In fact, I can probably coun...more3.5 stars Try as I might, I can only think of several YA books with LGBTQ main characters that really took my breath away. In fact, I can probably count them on my fingers. (Not that I need my fingers to count, people! I suck at math, but not that much!) While this saddens me for so many reasons, it’s comforting to see more and more being written every day. And besides, the novels we do have are all pretty spectacular. Just think: Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz; Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff, the spectacular Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford; the Printz medalist Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; and, (this I’m assuming because I haven’t read it yet) The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth.*
Naturally, when I discovered One Man Guy, I hoped with all my heart that it would find its place among these brilliant novels. Unfortunately, it fell just a little bit short. It was lighthearted, funny, but not memorable enough, and certainly not set to become a classic. A worthy attempt with something missing. In that, it reminded me of Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.
The plot is actually pretty straightforward: young Alek meets Ethan, a boy from school and his complete opposite, and starts having feelings towards him. These feelings lead him to conclude that he is not, in fact, straight. Alek doesn’t spend too much time struggling with this fact. He is open-minded by nature and once he connects the dots, he just accepts things for what they are. That fact alone made me like him very much. Overall, Alek is a fascinatingly realistic character – a bit younger than I’m used to, but honest, with typical teen anger issues and insecurities.
However, while I liked Alek very much, I found his relationship with Ethan just a bit too disappointing. Ethan influenced Alek in ways I didn’t particularly like and their dynamic, colored by Ethan’s previous relationship with an older boyfriend, wasn’t something my heart could get behind.
Actually, the LGBTQ theme wasn’t what I appreciated most about this novel. Instead, I was thrilled by the intercultural undertones and the lightly satirical portrayal of Armenian culture. System of a Down has been my favorite band for over 15 year so I’ve made it a point to learn as much as I could about the Armenian genocide, but their culture, things like Armenian cuisine and mentality, remain a mystery to me. It was interesting to see it through Alek’s eyes, colored by his mixed feelings of pride and teen rebellion.
Overall, One Man Guy is a noteworthy debut that left me determined to read whatever else Michael Barakiva writes. There’s room for improvement, sure, but his writing is filled with honesty and warmth one can’t help but appreciate.
*There are, of course, others likeBoy Meets Boy or Pink - great books, but not personal favorites. Feel free to mention more in the comments.
Sweet Damage is a compelling New Adult mystery with a distinctly gothic feel. I was new to Rebecca James' work so the quality of her storytelling took...more Sweet Damage is a compelling New Adult mystery with a distinctly gothic feel. I was new to Rebecca James' work so the quality of her storytelling took me completely by surprise. She is a master at building suspense to almost unbearable levels and leaving her readers terrified of their own shadows.
In other words, this woman scared the living daylights out of me.
In addition, good male narrators are hard to find, and Tim is far better than most. His voice isn't particularly strong or particularly memorable, but it's easy to slip into. Even though he is at times extremely unsympathetic and frustratingly weak, his numerous flaws make him seem more human and far more approachable, which allows readers to effortlessly slip into his skin. We've all known a Tim at some point: the not-quite-boy-and-not-quite-man, determined to avoid responsibility at all costs. He pines for his ex-girlfriend, a manic pixie dream girl type, not because she's especially lovable, but because she makes him feel wild and unrestrained.
In his effort to avoid the dreaded real life, he ends up living with the agoraphobic, recently orphaned Anna in her mansion. On the surface, Anna seems weak and vulnerable, but inexplicable things tend to happen to people around her, things that can’t just be explained away. After some very strange events and a few sleepless nights, Tim has to wonder whether Anna is unstable enough to hurt herself, and possibly even him.
Sweet Damage was so skillfully planned and constructed that it kept me guessing to the very end. I had no idea what might be the story behind Anna’s strange self-imprisonment, but I knew it must be awful beyond belief. I also couldn’t even begin to guess who was to blame for her situation, and while I had my doubts, none of them turned out to be correct.
Sweet Damage is frightening, fascinating, frustrating and so incredibly good. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it seems that when it comes to Aussie writers, wonders never cease.