REVIEW: The Best Man by Richard Peck
Newbery Medalist Richard Peck tells a story of small-town life, gay marriage, and everyday heroes in this novel for fans of Gary Schmidt and Jack Gantos Archer Magill has spent a lively five years of grade school with one eye out in search of grown-up role models. Three of the best are his grandpa, the great architect; his dad, the great vintage car customizer,; and his uncle Paul, who is just plain great. These are the three he wants to be. Along the way he finds a fourth—Mr. McLeod, a teacher. In fact, the first male teacher in the history of the school. But now here comes middle school and puberty. Change. Archer wonders how much change has to happen before his voice does. He doesn’t see too far ahead, so every day or so a startling revelation breaks over him. Then a really big one when he’s the best man at the wedding of two of his role models. But that gets ahead of the story. In pages that ripple with laughter, there’s a teardrop here and there. And more than a few insights about the bewildering world of adults, made by a boy on his way to being the best man he can be.
I GOT THE BOOK AS A FREEBIE FROM AMAZON VINE PROGRAM
Dear Richard Peck, I loved this book almost without reservations. However I have to note that I am not a target audience and have no way of knowing whether kids of this age would love it. The one in my family who is close enough does not like contemporary stories unfortunately. You talk in the foreword about wondering whether younger audience heard about gay marriage becoming law of the land and wanting to tell a story about it, which will not be preachy. I think you succeeded and admirably so. I loved Archer, loved the story of his trials and tribulations while growing up from first grade to sixth, which was framed by two weddings.
This book was charming, funny, a little sad couple of times, but most importantly it was engaging. It was not a story about how awesome gay marriage was per se, it was a story of the boy who is living his life, and who gets to witness (some of it) how beloved family member falls in love with one of his teachers. The boy also gets to participate in their wedding.
“Boys aren’t too interested in weddings. Girls like them. Grown – ups like them. But my first-grade year started with one wedding, and my sixth ended with another. Call my story “A Tale of Two Weddings.” I was in both of them.”
Part of the reason why I worry about not being a target audience for the book (as much as I still love some kids’ and YA books) is because I wonder whether Archer’s voice is authentic enough to pass as a voice of twelve year old kid. Eleven year old in my family probably has even more advanced vocabulary, but whether she is capable of making some of the conclusions Archer makes? I just do not know – although that is mostly his internal monologue, so I suppose it is possible and he is not three, he is twelve.
But let’s go back to the weddings now. At the first wedding Archer becomes friends with Lynette Stanley who remains his friend through sixth grade and personally I am hoping for years to come.
“So that’s how Lynette Stanley and I started. She was bossy then. She’s bossy now. But she took the rap for me by saying she’d knocked me in the mud.
“You saved my butt,” I still tell her.
“Actually, I didn’t,” Lynette says. “Your six-year old butt is still on YouTube”.
We get to see Archer in school and at home. Author mentions in the foreword that he wanted to give his main character a supportive family and that’s what happened. Archer has great family, but it was just done with such a light touch – we see mom who asks questions even if Archer is not very willing to answer, we see dad who is there for his son and grandparents and uncle who has no problem interfering on Archer’s behalf when school bully attacks him. The attack warranted interference for several reasons, believe me.
Be rest assured that while Archer is capable of thinking some mature thoughts and coming up with interesting ideas, he is not being mature all the time.
“It’s my vocabulary,” she said. “I’m in fifth, but my vocabulary’s in senior –year A.P. English and about to graduate. With honors. My vocabulary’s going to be valedictorian. But I’m only mature compared to you. You’re really taking your sweet time, you know?”
“Time to what?”
“Mature,” Lynette explained.”
Have I mentioned that the book was funny? When student teacher Andy McLeod comes to do some work under supervision in their school, the circumstances of his arrival are both funny and sadly very realistic. But I liked the descriptions of what he did with the students even better.
“Since Mr. Mcleod was not a real teacher yet, he kept coming with new ideas. We started every morning with some National Guard workout routines. Just what we could do next to our desks.”
What brief glimpses we could see of the love story were adorable in the best sense of the word. I really hope kids will like this book as much as I did.