Author: Genta Sebastian
Publisher: Shadoe Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 152 Pages
At a Glance: With a narrator who isn’t always easy to like, let alone love, A Man’s Man gives its young narrator the room to discover what being a man’s man truly means.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: “It’s like this, see. My dad’s a fag, his boyfriend’s a queer, and I think I might be gay. I mean, I think it’s catching or something.”
When thirteen year old R.J. decides to turn his dad straight, unintended consequences mess everything up. To make things right he will have to figure out for himself what it means to be A Man’s Man.
(For YA readers age 12-16)
Review: The narrator of A Man’s Man, R.J. Davis, is a boy carrying around a lot of hurt and anger. Our evidence? The opening paragraph of the book, which you’ll notice is also the opening paragraph of the blurb.
Written with her intended audience in mind, Sebastian does a fantastic job of keeping things simple and straightforward in this narrative, as well as making these characters and their story relatable to her YA readers. As adults, we often reflect upon how brutal kids can be to one another, but sometimes we have to acknowledge how horrific adults can be too. In snide remarks masked as jokes and extremism masquerading as religion, we’re forced to recognize that hatred, bigotry, and discrimination can be found any and everywhere—even as close as our schools and communities—and this book relays that without sugarcoating it in the slightest.
The author presents these scenarios through R.J.’s narration, and as an adult reader, I don’t mind admitting I cringed at every disparaging remark and nasty epithet flung so carelessly, especially by R.J. himself. This isn’t a comfortable read for those of us who think of ourselves as being politically correct, but this book and its subject aren’t meant to be comfortable, nor is A Man’s Man intended to show anything but the ways R.J.’s relationship with his father is colored by the boy’s perceptions. In that goal, the author succeeds.
After his parents divorced, R.J.’s father moved to Minnesota while R.J. and his mother remained behind in San Diego—a divorce that was instigated by his father finally acknowledging the truth of his own sexuality. Establishing plausibility for R.J.’s bitterness is achieved by tapping into the reader’s empathy for the boy whose parents’ best intentions had left him feeling abandoned by his father; feeling displaced by his father’s partner Stephen (whom R.J. introduces to people as his uncle); feeling betrayed by a father who obviously (in R.J.’s opinion) never loved the mother R.J. adores—a mother who has died too soon. Which leaves the boy feeling abandoned once again, even as he’s exiled to Minnesota to live with a father who not only seems somewhat like a stranger to R.J. but is also the object of the boy’s intense scorn.
We witness R.J.’s grief present as the actions of a boy who is sometimes difficult to like, I don’t mind saying. His attitude certainly makes him an unreliable narrator where Robert and Stephen’s relationship is concerned, a relationship that’s anathema to the boy and, were their community to discover the true nature of the men’s living arrangements, it would open them up to the sort of ridicule they have been disinclined to test. That is, until R.J. makes it his mission to break up Robert and Stephen so his father will be straight again.
As I was reading this book, I found myself wondering how many of the events I should take as dramatic license and how much should be acknowledged as the believable actions of a teenage boy who didn’t grow up with two dads but was introduced to it more or less at a time when he’s only just becoming aware of what sexuality even is—his own included. How much should be acknowledged as the actions of a boy who needed to have his father to himself, weighed against the actions of a boy who equated his father’s being gay as being the direct result of R.J.’s feeling abandoned—when in truth, Robert’s embracing his homosexuality, the subsequent divorce, his moving away and distancing himself from his son were merely the byproducts of two parents whose love for their child and respect for each other was all misinterpreted by a boy who was too young to understand. R.J.’s naïveté rang absolutely true to me in his belief that his dad would quit being gay if only the temptation of the man he loves could be removed from the equation. R.J.’s anger rang true as well, and served to make Robert and Stephen our sympathetic protagonists in the story. Does that make R.J. the antagonist? Yes, absolutely. But this is also a story of redemption and an opportunity for R.J. to grow into his feelings once he learns what being a man’s man truly means.
Although Genta Sebastian’s A Man’s Man is labeled as a Young Adult novella suitable for ages 12 to 16, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciated this story from the perspective of an adult. With no action or fantasy in the plot, I’m not sure how well kids will relate to the story, but it’s certainly a lesson that life isn’t always easy, that losing a parent is hard (at any age), that being a teenager sometimes feels impossible, and finding the courage to finally speak up and right a wrong is everything this novella’s title is about.
You can buy A Man’s Man here: