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The Best Man


The Best Man

Before reviewing Richard Peck’s newest book, THE BEST MAN, I want to provide some background on Peck so that this book is properly situated. Peck has made a career of writing award-winning young adult literature in a variety of genres and about a range of topics. In 1999 A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO was awarded a Newbery Honor; its sequel, A YEAR DOWN YONDER, won the Newbery Medal in 2001. In 1990 Peck received the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association for his contributions to young adult literature. Peck is quoted as saying, “I want to write novels that ask honest questions about serious issues. A novel is never an answer; it’s always a question." At the age of 82, Peck continues to fulfill his goal of asking honest questions about serious issues and posing questions rather than providing answers in THE BEST MAN.

"I laughed and cried throughout my reading of THE BEST MAN. I loved the characters...Peck takes an ordinary life and shines a light on all that makes it extraordinary."

Archer Magill, the main character of THE BEST MAN, and the best man referenced in the title opens the novel by explaining that this is a story best called “A Tale of Two Weddings” (p. 1). The two weddings bookend the story. The first was when Archer was six. He served as the ring bearer at the wedding of family friends. The wedding was notable for two reasons: first, Archer met his best friend, Lynette, who was serving as the flower girl at the wedding, and, second, Archer’s memorable entrance at the wedding was captured on video, posted on the internet and viewed by thousands, or perhaps millions. The second wedding occurs when Archer is 12 and in this wedding he serves as the best man. The ceremony itself is less remarkable than the first, but the wedding and the wedded are much more remarkable.

The midsection of THE BEST MAN takes us through the years between the two weddings. Archer tells of his somewhat idyllic life and the three men who are his role models. The first is Archer’s dad who is a car remodeler; father and son spend a lot of time together working on refurbishing cars and talking about life. The second is Archer’s grandfather who was a great architect in his prime and designed many of the buildings in town, including Archer’s elementary school. The third is Archer’s Uncle Paul who is cool and smart and gives the best gifts. During fifth grade Archer finds another role model in Mr. McLeod. Mr. McLeod is assigned as a student teacher in Archer’s class and he is unlike any teacher, or man, most of the students have ever known. Archer is lucky to be surrounded by so many notable role models and his life is further enriched when the paths of two of his role models cross.

Not to sound cliché, but I laughed and cried throughout my reading of THE BEST MAN. I loved the characters; they were each someone that I wanted to meet and to have in my own life. I loved the plot and the “twist” that Archer certainly didn’t see coming, but that astute readers might. But, perhaps, my favorite thing about THE BEST MAN is that Peck takes an ordinary life and shines a light on all that makes it extraordinary, which in Archer’s case are those that surround him, particularly his four role models.

I admire Peck’s ability, even in his 80s and even after writing for decades, to continue to tackle big issues that seem extraordinary but really are just ordinary topics, or should be just ordinary topics, and to continue to pose questions through his writing, such as why can’t the once extraordinary become ordinary and why can’t the ordinary become extraordinary?

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on September 30, 2016

The Best Man
by Richard Peck