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Review of The Best Man

BestManstar2 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.

For more in The Horn Book’s Pride Month series, click on the tag LGBT Pride 2016.

Gregory Maguire About Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the author, most recently, of Egg & Spoon (Candlewick), a 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Honor Book, and a forthcoming novel for adults, After Alice. For twenty-five years he co-directed Children’s Literature New England, which he also helped found.

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Comments

  1. Sally Miculek says:

    There was so much good with this book, right up to the point where adults who know better send Lynette to “fat camp.” That alone is enough for me to avoid recommending this title. But pointedly referring to a character as “differently abled” while he heals from a broken leg seems tone-deaf at best. Other flaws (buffoonish adults, the unlikely reunion of divorced parents…) pervade. So much could have been great in this book, but I believe its weaknesses fundamentally undermine its potential.

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