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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

The Best Man

best-manWe are heading towards picking our final list and I’m feeling the pressure.  There are just so many amazing books, and so little time!  So for today,  THE BEST MAN.  It came up in a couple of people’s lists, and I think it has a deserved place in our conversation.

Richard Peck is pretty much the opposite of a new kid on the block, yet he manages to keep things fresh, and his newest middle grade novel is definitely a treat.  I think this title stands out for its mix of hilarity and serious, tackling intense topics with real heart and humor.  I was laughing out loud during the story of the first wedding, and I’m a hard sell for humor.  Like the intended audience for this book, though, I love a butt, and Archer’s telling of his own unfortunate butt reveal was hilarious.   So, funny, yes.  Funny, but heartfelt.

Here’s the thing.  This book could easily have become a bit didactic – an issues book about bullies or an issues book about gay marriage or an issues book about death – but it doesn’t.  This book is about our protagonist, Archer, and his life at school and at home and in spite of all these potential “issues,” the story moves forward with humor, grace, and authenticity.   This is not a political book, it is a coming-of-age story.  That doesn’t mean, though, that it won’t encourage political discussion or lead young people to think outside of their current experience.  I was pleased to see a review on Amazon where a man stated plainly that he personally doesn’t politically support gay marriage but that he still gave this book 5 stars for doing what it does so well.

The audience learns about life, along with Archer, through his relationships with a slew of important adults in his life and I appreciated the importance of men and male role models in this story, even while Archer’s best friend is an amazing well-written and well-rounded female character.

Peck respects his young audience and expects them to think a little, laugh a little, and maybe even learn a little.

Is this one of my top picks? Well, it’s not in my top 5.  But top 10?  Maybe.  Top 15?  Certainly!  I hope it’s a title that will be discussed by our real committee, even if it doesn’t make it onto our own little shortlist.



Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


  1. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    After a run of historical fiction and animal stories, it’s nice to see Peck writing a contemporary middle grade novel. Some people have criticized the voice of the main character in this book as unbelievable, but I didn’t have that problem. Wonderful book on all fronts, but it’s also a Top 10-15 kind of book for me rather than Top 5.

  2. This was in my top 5 because of the humor, the gracefully dealt with controversial issues and the just plain outstanding writing. Like Jonathan, I’m glad Peck has left behind animals and the past. I laughed and cried through this story and the kids I’ve given this book have loved it too. I will have to admit, I was fortunate to meet Mr. Peck and hear his views on being a children’s author. As I recall, he talked about the responsibility of being authentic and honest with readers, and in my opinion, this book represents this, while still being well-written. The characters seem like people you could meet and the plot is so well done. In a year of so many heavy titles, I enjoyed the a chance to laugh out loud!

  3. I went into this one a bit dubious that Peck could create a believable contemporary world, but found that he did so quite nicely. I thought it was warm, humorous, and a very enjoyable read. I too had no trouble with the voice. He seemed a mix of naive and wise all at the same time.

  4. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I recently did some booktalking presentations to librarians about the best books of the year, and I was surprised to find how many of them included LGBTQ characters and themes, a marked uptick from years past. THE BEST MAN and THE FAMILY FLETCHER TAKES ROCK ISLAND (PENDERWICKS with gay dads) were the only middle grade novels, but there is a slew of YA . . .



      • Oh, I’m just now realizing that you mean that those two books were the only two middle grade novels with LGBT+ themes that you considered best books of the year, not that they were the only two middle grade novels. Sorry.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        They’re the only ones that I’m aware of. I’m sure I’m missing more, both middle grade and YA. I’d welcome additions to both categories. My point remains, however, that I think we’ve seen a noticeable surge in this content this year, especially compared with, say, five years ago.

  5. This was very fun, I’ve recommended it to several people and it was certainly amusing. Top 5? Not even close for me.

    It was frustrating for me because I’m the sort of reader that just can’t let things go. In a storyline where everything was purposefully over the top for comic relief, I had a hard time just going with the exaggerated flow. The British boy, for example, is a caricature from generations past and bears no resemblance to real modern day Brits (or at least not the ones I know), and while I know that was intentional because it’s funny, the fact that I kept noticing that over and over interrupted my reading.

    It also kept jarring me out of the story that the fifth graders are described as having side burns or their voices changing, both of which, while possible at the level of the individual, are generally not true of fifth graders as a group. In my experience fifth graders, at ten years old, still look like kids. It’s not until the seventh grade that you start to get significant pulling away as some of the kids hit puberty and leave the others temporarily behind. I kept getting the impression that the author had originally intended the book to be about older kids or early teenagers, but was convinced to make them younger based on the naivite and immaturity of the protagonist.

    All that being said, the book is legitimately funny in places. I think the shenanigans aspect of the book wouldn’t have bothered me so much if they hadn’t been walking hand in hand with more serious and deftly handled plotlines, such as the decline and death of the grandfather.

  6. This was a fun book to read, and I am a true fan of Richard Peck’s work, particularly his gentle humor that infiltrates all of his stories. I always know I am going to laugh, and this one didn’t disappoint.

    However, there just wasn’t a lot of meat to this story – which is fine -but it just felt a little flat. I am glad that gay marriage didn’t become some political plot point or major conflict in the story. It allowed the story to remain a simple look at love and relationships without becoming didactic. But I felt like Archer’s relationship with his grandfather could have been more developed, and even his relationship with Lynette didn’t have enough substance for my liking.

    I also struggled with Archer’s voice throughout the book. I gathered that Archer and Lynette are gifted students (with impressive vocabulary), but I didn’t feel any real distinction between their younger selves and their present selves – very little growth. Most of the characters felt overly mature for 5th grade, and the British boy – name escapes me- felt like a caricature, rather than a real person.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I will enthusiastically recommend it to kids, but I don’t think it measures up in comparison with some other phenomenal books released this year.

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