The Best Man
by Richard Peck
Intermediate, Middle School Dial 232 pp.
9/16 978-0-8037-3839-3 $16.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-698-18973-7 $10.99
Rise and toast The Best Man, Peck’s story about Archer Magill, a boy growing from a raw dollop of kindergarten id into a functional middle-school kid, a budding citizen of the world. As a participant in the two weddings that launch and conclude the novel (the first when he is six and the latter as a sixth grader), Archer is a familiar American type: a kid’s kid, of the sort readers may recognize from Beverly Cleary or Eleanor Estes. Decent, a little clueless — neither a hero nor a bystander, Archer is aware of wanting grownups to emulate. Among the men Archer applauds is his uncle Paul. That Paul turns out to be gay is not a crisis. “‘You knew I was gay, right?’ Uncle Paul sat up, pushed his ball cap back. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I guess. Not really. No.’” Show me six other words that capture a fifth grader so adroitly. The Best Man, refreshingly, is neither polemic nor camp-on-steroids. (That Uncle Paul’s love interest is a hunk — and Archer’s student teacher — who captivates the national Twitter-verse is perhaps the only slip toward stereotype — or are all gay men gorgeous? Just asking.) Archer’s continuing admiration of his uncle after the revelation is underplayed; this isn’t a problem novel. Uncle Paul’s life doesn’t overwhelm the parade of Archer’s school dramas involving teachers, friends, enemies, and a dying grandfather, which roll along with brio and feeling. Your reviewer here breaks convention to reveal that a child of his recently admitted to having been bullied, several years ago, for having two dads. So we’re not done needing books like this. Comic, easy to read, swiftly paced, and matter-of-fact, Peck’s latest steps out to lead the way.
From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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