Title: The Best Man
Author: Richard Peck
Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date: 09/20/2016
Classification: Middle Grade
Sometimes there are books that are so full of joy that none of their flaws really matter.
Archer Magill is growing up fast in a Chicago suburb and he’s on the lookout for role-models. He certainly has plenty to choose from: his car-loving father, his architect grandfather, Uncle Paul, who’s all-around amazing, and Mr. McLeod, his new fifth grade teacher. Everyone loves him. While Archer knows he’s surrounded by some pretty great guys, he struggles seeing the important stuff right in front of him. So it comes as a bit of a shock when he’s offered the chance to be the best man at a wedding for two of his role models. Of course, that’s getting ahead of things…
The book is pretty episodic in structure, and Archer tends to crash from section to section, primarily with the help of his best friend, Lynette. Works under this structure have to be exceptional to hold my attention. But Richard Peck was such a master of character and situation, it doesn’t matter.
Part of this is because Peck hones in on a heightened sense of what children experience. Most of the scenes are farcical. At one point, Mr. McLeod becomes an internet sensation, resulting in adoring fans casing out the school in droves. It’s handled with intense humor that skews into unrealistic, but it works because it’s Archer’s perceptions.
This also makes some of the more serious moments much more impactful, particularity a scene that hones in on bullying. But that’s middle school. One minute, you’re laughing at the absurdity of it all. The next, you’re crushed.
Certainly, one of the biggest points in this book is its handling of gay marriage. And boy, it’s joyous.
It’s romantic. It’s funny. It’s sweet. It’s just an all-around celebration, and something that’s been absolutely necessary in kidlit.