Hold My Hand
Published by: Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication date: May 21st 2019
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
Alek Khederian thinks about his life B.E. and A.E.: Before Ethan and After Ethan. Before Ethan, Alek was just an average Armenian-American kid with a mess of curly dark hair, grades not nearly good enough for his parents, and no idea of who he was or what he wanted. After he got together with Ethan, Alek was a new man. Stylish. Confident. (And even if he wasn’t quite marching in LGBTQ parades), Gay and Out and Proud.
With their six-month anniversary coming up, Alek and Ethan want to do something special to celebrate. Like, really special. Like, the most special thing two people in love can do with one another. But Alek’s not sure he’s ready for that. And then he learns something about Ethan that may not just change their relationship, but end it.
Alek can’t bear the thought of finding out who he’d be P.E.: Post-Ethan. But he also can’t forgive or forget what Ethan did. Luckily, his best friend Becky and madcap Armenain family are there to help him figure out whether it’s time to just let Ethan go, or reach out and hold his hand.
Hold My Hand is a funny, smart, relatable take on the joy and challenges of teenage love, the boundaries of forgiveness, and what it really means to be honest.
“Have you, or anyone in the whole church for that matter, ever thought about what it might be like for someone who doesn’t subscribe to these heteronormative standards to be part of this congregation?” Alek hadn’t meant to out himself to the reverend father. But as the words came tumbling out of his mouth, they both realized that he had done so.
“Oh! I see.” Reverend Father Stepanian exhaled gently as he realized what Alek was telling him. “I see,” he repeated, without judgment.
“So what—now you think I’m a bad Armenian?” Alek pressed.
“How long has your family been coming to St. Stephen’s?” “I’m not sure; since before my brother was born?”
“So almost twenty years.” “At least.”
“I remember baptizing you. You were a very good baby— no crying at all. Unlike your older brother, Andranik. He made such a fuss, you should’ve heard him. Screaming at the top of his lungs. I’ve known you your whole life, and I know you are a good boy, Alek. And a good Armenian. Learning this isn’t going to change any of that.”
“Thank you, Father.” Alek leaned back in the pew and released the breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding.
“The world has changed in many ways since you were born—mostly for the good, I’m happy to say. But the church takes a long time to catch up. That’s why I ask you to under- stand my position. I adore your family, even though I know that I can count on you to be at least twenty minutes late.”
The reverend and Alek shared a smile at his own joke. “After service, your mother’s dolma is always the best at the buffet.”
“My father’s dolma, you mean,” Alek corrected him. “Excuse me?”
“My father makes the dolma.”
The reverend father smiled, sheepishly running his hand over his immaculately trimmed beard, which showed the slightest signs of graying. “My apologies—I suppose it was foolish of me to make that assumption. We learn so much about our- selves by the things we take for granted, don’t we?” He started again. “Your family’s dolma is always the best. But the church is very clear about its doctrine. Homosexuality is a sin.”
“Do you have any gay friends, Reverend Father?” He regarded Alek. “Of course I do . . .”
“And do you believe, in your heart of hearts, that your gay friends can lead upstanding lives, but when they get to heaven’s gates, they will be denied entrance for being gay? If I died right now in some freaky alien invasion, would I go to hell?”
“What I believe is not relevant here, Alek. The belief of the church is what’s important.”
“So your beliefs are different than the church’s?”
The reverend father smiled. “You’re not going to trick me into an admission, Alek. We pastors wrestle with this all the time. But the church’s position is that love and sex are special gifts from God to be enjoyed within the sacrament of marriage. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I: But if they cannot contain, let them arry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 1 Corinthians, 7:8-9. All sex outside of marriage is considered the sin of fornication.”
“So if Ethan and I got married, everything would be all right?”
Sadness crept over the reverend father’s face. “I’m afraid not. Romans chapter one, verses twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-six, and twenty-seven make it very clear that the special gift of love is reserved for a man and woman. So does Leviticus.”
“Leviticus also says not to eat shellfish or the fat from a goat, lamb, or sheep. And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you about good ol’ Leviticus’s stand on mixed seeds or fabrics. Who gets to decide which passages in the Bible you have to take at face value and which ones you get to interpret? And how?”
“That’s the whole point of the church, at least the Armenian Church. We priests have spent our lives studying the Bible, Alek—its writing, its interpretation, its meaning. That’s our job.”
“From where I’m sitting, mixing fabrics is much more shocking than me having a boyfriend. Why, just last week, I saw your wife sporting a cashmere pashmina over a wool jacket. And I think her blouse was made of cotton. I prayed extra hard for her that night, Reverend Father.”
Father Stepanian laughed heartily. “It’s nice to talk to you like this—and see how passionately you feel about it.” The reverend father leaned in, confiding. “To be honest, between you and me, I think the church’s view on some things could use updating. But it takes time, Alek, for a ship this size to change direction. You have to remember, the Armenians were the first people to convert to Christianity, and it is my job to uphold the church’s beliefs. You know, a heretic is not someone who doesn’t believe. He’s someone who picks and chooses which doctrines he follows and which ones he doesn’t. But true faith doesn’t work that way. It’s not a buffet that you can sample at will. You have to sign up for the whole deal.”
“So single-fabric outfits for everyone from now on?” Alek asked.
The reverend father laughed again. “From now on, for simplicity’s sake, let’s make it easy, okay? Just keep your personal life personal. I will think about this conversation, Alek, and I hope you do, too.”
Michael Barakiva, author of One Man Guy, is a theater director and writer of Armenian/Israeli descent who lives in Manhattan with his husband, Rafael. He is a graduate of Vassar College and the Juilliard School, an avid cook and board-game player, and a soccer player with the New York Ramblers.