The best thing about children’s book author Richard Peck is that I can crack open one of his books without an inkling of what’s to come and be wowed by his guaranteed belly laugh-inducing ability to tell stories. His newest book, The Best Man, is no exception.
The Best Man is an atypical coming-of-age story built around the salient male role models in Archer Magill’s life. It’s also book-ended by two memorable weddings, neither of which are Archer’s. (He is a member of both wedding parties, though, first as an ill-fated ring bearer and then as the VIP best man.)
Archer’s coming of age is atypical because he doesn’t successfully kill a shark, a boar and an octopus to earn the respect of his chieftain father, free his totalitarian-utopian community from its inability to feel human emotions, or fulfill a prophecy-fueled destiny after years of living as an ignominious orphan. Archer’s quite normal, sweet but clueless. He goes to school and tries to be middle of the pack. His best friend, Lynnette Stanley, is smarter and more interesting than him.
Archer’s not so much the protagonist as much as a great narrator. So his great coming-of-age moment comes when he gives good life advice to his beloved uncle and inspiring fifth grade student teacher, both of whom are important figures in his life. They then act on his advice in a positive life-changing way. (Yes, I’m being coy because SPOILERS.)
As for the male role models, Archer looks up to his dad, his grandfather, his uncle and his teacher. He’s got plenty of supportive male relationships in a story that’s not explicitly about having positive male role models. It doesn’t feel implicitly about that, either, but they’re there and the story is better for it.
Finally, The Best Man has all the old-timey charm and humor of A Long Way from Chicago, but it’s undoubtedly modern. The characters text and use cell phones. A gay couple get a storyline with relationship bumps that straight couples also face for a change, like commitment issues and anxieties over compatibility. There’s also on point commentary on helicopter parenting, the Common Core and the media circus that can be social media.
I suppose the only thing that dates it is that in Archer’s timeline, the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908.
Which is neither here nor there. Like the Cub’s win over the Cleveland Indians, it’s a modern classic. But funnier. So so much funnier.