cover image The Best Man

The Best Man

Richard Peck. Dial, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-803-73839-3

Markedly more contemporary than many of Peck’s previous novels, this drolly narrated coming-of-age story traces milestones in Archer Magill’s life from first to sixth grade while deftly addressing a variety of social issues. The first scene—depicting a “train wreck” of a wedding in which six-year-old Archer performs ring bearer duties in a pair of muddy, too-tight shorts that have split open in the back—sets the stage for other hilarious mishaps. Whenever Archer flounders, there are people (usually the influential men he “wanted to be”) ready to help: his father, as good at fixing problems as he is at restoring vintage cars; his stylish Uncle Paul; and his dignified grandfather Magill. In fifth grade, Archer finds he can depend on someone new: his student-teacher Mr. McLeod, who accidentally causes a lockdown when he shows up at school in his National Guard uniform. Archer gains some wisdom on his own (after befriending a visiting student from England, he concludes: “We thought he was weird. He thought we were weird. It was great. It was what multiculturalism ought to be”), but the most profound lessons about prejudice, conflict resolution, and gay rights are taught by his mentors, all-too-human heroes, whom readers will come to admire as much as Archer does. It’s an indelible portrait of what it looks like to grow up in an age of viral videos and media frenzies, undergirded by the same powerful sense of family that characterizes so much of Peck’s work. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)