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Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Best Man, by Richard Peck. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2016. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"So then it was fifth grade with all the same crowd plus a new kid. Our big teeth were in, and our faces were catching up. Now I was fourth tallest behind two of the Joshes and the new kid, Raymond Petrovich, who was Gifted. Except for a girl named Esther Wilhelm, who was taller than everybody and never said anything. Fifth grade was the year we had three different teachers and a lockdown ... "

Today I want to tell you about the absolutely incomparable Richard Peck's new novel. I have not yet read all that he has written but I am on a continuing quest to change that.

When The Best Man arrived I set aside everything else that I was reading to get to know Archer Magill and the amazing men in his life. His story begins with a wedding when he is 6, and ends with another when he is 12. He is an integral part of both. Being a ring bearer at 6 came as a big unwanted surprise, and he did his best to avoid being there. He was found and his trip down the aisle was the stuff legends are made of - ripped pants and no underwear underneath them, he became the star of the show and the 'butt' of a host of jokes.

In fifth grade he is living the unenviable life of many ... all the drama, the changing body and voice, challenging friendships, and coming of age. The school lockdown which hilariously welcomes a new student teacher to Archer's class brings change.Warrant Officer Ed McLeod's arrival is obviously full of drama; very soon, his good looks and skill at teaching make him a celebrity to his students. The fact that he is gay is eventually revealed when bullying becomes an issue at their school. Add to that the fact that Ed is attracted to Archer's much admired and loved Uncle Paul. When their wedding date is set, who is asked to be best man? Why Archer, of course! No untoward incidents this time. And so, the book ends as it began ... with a wedding!

The years between weddings are shared through admirable writing, and filled with the humor that I so love about Mr. Peck's stories. Archer's voice is exceptional; his view of the world is sincere, yet impossibly innocent at times. He has remarkable role models to help him navigate his ever-changing world. His father and grandfather love him and assure that he has support and advice when it is needed. Uncle Paul and Ed, and their developing relationship, help him navigate a new social climate. He learns about being a man through his many interactions with the wonderful men in his life, and about what love is.

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