Book Review: The Best Man by Richard Peck
My Review: I was given a copy of The Best Man by Goldberg McDuffie Communications in exchange for an honest review.
The Best Man follows 12-year-old Archer Magill as he grows up between the two major weddings that play a part in his young life. Archer puts it best in the opening pages, when he remarks that his story could be called “A Tale of Two Weddings.” Most of the story takes place between these two weddings, both of which Archer plays a role in. The Best Man is a wonderful story of family, growing up, and what it means to be a man narrated by the most authentic middle grade voice I’ve ever read.
From the very first pages, I fell head over heels in love with Archer Magill. He is a naïve narrator and often oblivious to things around him, which makes him a wonderful narrator. Though he often notices things taking place around him, he doesn’t often connect the dots, leading the reader to draw their own conclusions. The reader discovers things alongside Archer instead of being told what he knows, putting the narrator and reader on equal terms, which I think is especially important in middle grade.
Archer’s voice was incredibly authentic to his age, in part for two reasons. The first being his use of “body language” expressions, such as “It came up to here on me.” These expressions forced me to visualize Archer’s body language as the narrator, which made it feel as though he was standing right in front of me. The second reason for his authentic voice would be the occasional “head hopping.” Normally, I’m very against head hopping, as how does your main character know what everyone else is thinking? Yet with Archer’s age, it’s natural that he would use phrases like, “Lynette was thinking the same thing too,” as he is at an age where it makes sense that he would assume to know everything. The author used the head hopping sparingly, perhaps only a couple of lines throughout the book, which is what added to the character’s voice without being overbearing. If Archer had stated what every character was thinking in every scene, it would have lost the magic and stretched too far into “head hopping” territory, and I’d be wagging my finger. This is a perfect example of not only “less is more,” but “do what works for your manuscript.” Richard Peck took something that is considered taboo in writing (head hopping) and used it in a way that added to the narrator’s voice without taking away from the story.
Outside of Archer, the story is mainly a love story told through the eyes of an oblivious narrator. I loved this, as we got to experience the evolution of Uncle Paul’s relationship from an outsider’s point of view. It touches wonderfully on gay marriage, harassment, and masculinity. It strips down a lot of stereotypes and presents everyone as real people. More so, the story isn’t centered on the relationship. It also focuses greatly on Archer’s relationship with his friend, Lynette, as well as his relationship with his family members. Because of that, the book doesn’t come across as preachy or trying to spread a message-- It’s just another story of a loving family. Those familial relationships are really what sold the book for me, and made it feel so incredibly heartfelt.
The writing style is smooth and flows at a perfect pace. The writing is very stripped down, as it doesn’t have a lot of heavy explanations or descriptions. Not a single word is wasted when it comes to The Best Man. It reads very easily without talking down to its audience, throwing in, as Lynette said, “fifth grade vocabulary.” Honestly this is the perfect book for middle grade readers. Especially readers on the younger end of the scale, who may be worried about transitions out of elementary school, changes in the family dynamic, or who are confused about gay marriage and what that means for the world now. If I had a son, this would be the book I read to him every night before bed. Hell, he’d have it memorized by middle school.
TL;DR: All in all, 5/5 stars. A truly honest and lovable story about growing up that made me bawl like a baby and snicker with my inner child.