Richard Peck is a legend in the children’s book world. His more than eighteen novels for young readers have earned him legions of fans, effusive critical praise, and nearly every children’s fiction award including the Margaret A. Edwards Award and the Newbery Medal. He has twice been nominated for a National Book Award and was the first children’s author ever to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal.
And now, with THE BEST MAN, Peck addresses a timely topic that’s lacking in fiction for middle grade readers: same-sex marriage. The idea for the book came on a momentous day in our country’s history back in 2014 when Illinois state legislation implemented same-sex marriage. A year later, same-sex marriage was legalized in this country and marriage was everybody’s right. This made Peck think: Have the youngest readers among us heard? In a letter to his publisher Peck, who is openly gay wrote, “It seemed to me it was time for a story. A novel was needed, addressed to grade-school and middle-school readers. A novel to spark discussion and to open a door to a world suddenly living in a whole different era.”
With THE BEST MAN, Peck introduces twelve year old Archer Magill. Curious, kind, and sweetly naïve, Archer is navigating boyhood, tracing milestones from his years in elementary school, and looking ahead to the adult world in search of role models. Lucky for him, three of the best are in his family: his grandpa, the great architect; his dad, the great vintage car customizer; and his uncle Paul, who is just plain great. These are the three men he hopes to be like. Along the way, he finds a fourth – Mr. McLeod, a teacher. In fact, the first male teacher in the history of the school. But now comes middle school and puberty. Change. Archer wonders how much change has to happen before his voice does. He doesn’t see too far ahead, so every day or so a startling revelation breaks over him. Most unexpected and exhilarating of all: when he’s asked to be the best man at the wedding of two of his role models.