And now for something completely different.
In the last quarter of 2020, I began reading a genre of books totally new to me — something that did not exist at all when I was a boy — YA (“young adult”) gay-themed fiction.
I got quite a surprise , because not only did I find some (of course not all) of the books entertaining, but I also saw how helpful they could be to people in their teens with same-sex attraction, as well as to their friends, relatives, and others wanting to have a better understanding of that orientation. And YA books — though they do include a bit of sex here and there — tend to do it very tastefully and as a helpful ancillary to the overall plot. That is quite in contrast to many adult gay-themed books, which as I quickly found all too often emphasize graphic sex over story line.
In the past few months I have read quite a number of books in this new-to-me genre, and would like to recommend some of the best of them — the ones I enjoyed most — to those who might be interested. I will do that gradually over time.
First, I would like to introduce you briefly to two related books by Michael Barakiva that I highly recommend — One Man Guy and Hold My Hand.
First, One Man Guy:
Meet Alek Khederian and his very Armenian-American family. They are seated at a restaurant as Alek’s mother runs the unsuspecting waitress through a lengthy interrogation concerning the water and food, prompting Alek’s view that Armenian restaurant-goers should come with a warning label: “Waiting on Armenians Might Be Hazardous to Your Health.”
While they are at table, Alek’s parents inform him he is going to summer school — much to his displeasure. That is the first hint we have that Alek’s life is largely guided by his parents, who keep a short but concerned and loving leash on his activities. But just before summer school begins, Alek has an unexpected and life-changing encounter with a boy named Ethan — just the beginning of the coming together of their two very different worlds. Where dark-haired Alek is conservative and restrained, liberal, blond Ethan — at least to Alek’s eyes — is the very embodiment of cool.
We follow the two as Alek reacts to Ethan’s challenging, adventurous and free-spirited personality — and Ethan follows his strong attraction to Alek.
Michael Barakiva has created a very absorbing and loving portrait of two very different young guys exploring their youthful world and their feelings together — and of how the beginning of their journey affects those around them.
Hold My Hand is the must-read sequel for those who met Alek and Ethan in One Man Guy. As often happens in life, it turns out the road for these two is not always without obstacles. Through their experiences, we learn the importance of trust, honesty, fidelity and forgiveness in relationships. We also learn that normally-quiet Alek is not afraid to take on the backward attitudes and prejudices of the Armenian Orthodox Church concerning same-sex attraction.
As you can tell, I don’t want to reveal too much of the story. I don’t want take away from the freshness and enjoyment of it. Suffice it to say that Michael Barakiva has written a very touching and often deeply moving story of young love and of growth through facing the difficulties that life and relationships can bring us.
As I turned the pages of Hold My Hand, I found myself giving an unexpected amount of thought to the psychology of the interactions of Ethan and Alek — how their backgrounds and personal issues may have motivated them to react to events as they did. The book certainly offers much to ponder about the nature of relationships, whether among teens or adults.
I will add that when you finish the second of the two books, you will probably — like me — not want the story of Alek and Ethan to end.
One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva;
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 27, 2014)
Hold My Hand, by Michael Barakiva
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 21, 2019)