Genre: Young Adult, LGBT+
Publishing Info: 2014 by Square Fish
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
Summer school, a cute boy, and overbearing Armenian parents – what’s a guy to do?
Alek Khederian was looking forward to a relaxing summer. But when his parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grade, Alek is sure this experience will be just as hellish as his freshman year of high school. But he never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.
Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. Alek can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend – he’s barely ever had a girlfriend – but maybe it’s time to think again.
Warning: This review contains some spoilers
Having had this book recommended to me on Goodreads, it did not disappoint. Barakiva expertly combines Alek’s narrative with his dysfunctional family’s cultural conflicts to create a unique take on the coming out story.
As an individual element, Alek’s arc isn’t dissimilar from other YA LGBT protagonists, going through a stage of confusion after rejecting his female best friend’s advances before growing comfortable in his own skin thanks to the support of a male character, who he eventually gets into a relationship with. The free-spirited nature of Ethan and the innocence of Alek combines into a pairing that will appeal both to young people who are in the process of coming out and to older readers like myself who love an innocent romance story.
Barakiva doesn’t completely shy away from darker issues, such as racial hatred between Armenians and Turks and Alek’s parents living in New York during the peak of the AIDS crisis. The readers are given enough information to pique their interest in these topics in case they want to investigate these further but not too much so that it overwhelms the narrative. It is always good when an author uses his own identity in his literature and it is clear that here Barakiva is basing some of Alek’s feelings and thoughts from his own experiences.
The element that really stands out in this novel is the characterisation of those around Alek. There’s Ethan, a free individual who has pride in himself but has a whole backstory from a previous relationship and best friend Becky, who becomes supportive of Alek’s journey after mistaking signals from him. However it is Alek’s family who are the biggest success stories of this novel. In particular, his mum is hilarious whenever she comes to the fore, especially in the church and restaurant scenes. She also has a heartfelt moment when she accepts Alek for who he is, surprising both Alek and the audience after her attitudes previously in the text.
This novel is a good read, not being bogged down in the plot and as a result moves along at a fairly rapid pace, whilst not sacrificing characterisation. I noticed that a stand-alone spin-off is being developed for release later in the year and I look forward to reading more of Barakiva’s work.