October 14, 2016
The Best Man by Richard Peck
I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I picked up Peck’s latest offering. I’m a sucker for his historic fiction. I absolutely love it. Somehow I had consistently missed his contemporary novels. What can I say? It means I can be a bit narrow in my focus. Still, I requested it at the library and eagerly sat down to read it Wednesday night. I was only a chapter in when my husband turned off the light. But I picked it up Thursday morning and read all the way through to the back cover. It is that good.
Archer is a lucky kid and he knows it. Yes, he has to put up with bullies — including the one that pulled a knife on him in the first grade. And he’s had his share of heartache like when his grandpa had a stroke. But he’s also got a lot of great people in his life. The three men he looks up to most are:
- His Grandpa, a great architect who walks him to school.
- His Dad who restores antique cars and let’s Archer help.
- His Uncle Paul whose just great.
Then he meets role model #4 and things start to get interesting. Mr. McLeod is movie star handsome but when he shows up to his first day at work (student teaching) in full camo since he’s on his way to the National Guard for the weekend, the secretary panics. Soon the school is on full lock down because of . . . a uniform.
Mr. McLeod is the most interesting not-quite-a-teacher that Archer has ever had and soon he’s seeing more and more of the man. He and Uncle Paul seem to have struck up a friendship. Finally Uncle Paul points out to Archer that he (Uncle Paul) is gay. Archer’s a little surprised because he really isn’t the most observant guy ever. Still, Uncle Paul is Uncle Paul and if Mr. McLeod is what’s good for Uncle Paul, that’s good enough for Archer.
Before the book is over, it is obvious that these men are all helping Archer become the Best Man he can be.
As is always the case with Pecks books, he peppers them with amazingly funny and eccentric characters. There’s Archer’s best friend Lynnette, whose unapologetically herself both before and after fat camp, and temporally wheel-chair bound Hilary who has personality to spare.
Young readers who enjoy getting to know the characters in their books and a good laugh will love Peck’s book. But it isn’t all laughter. There are difficult moments and tears but there is also laughter and love and hope. I absolutely loved Archer in part because he can be so clueless. He’s the perfect character for any kid who has been surprised by a family announcement or a revelation from his best friend.
But if your young reader doesn’t get anything done until the book is read, don’t blame me. You were warned it could happen.