The Best Man
by Richard Peck, published 2016
“We all need goals,” he said. “Here’s one: Stay away from people who don’t know who they are but want you to be just like them. People who’ll want to label you. People who’ll try to write their fears on your face.”
Choosing one single quote from this mind-blowing children’s book was quite the task. Should I select one of the innumerable humorous lines in the book? Well, out of context, they might not seem funny. So I opted for the most profound, pivoting moment of this children’s book. Since you don’t know what came before this line, I won’t be spoiling the book, yet the line stands on its own as a representation of the book’s profundity, despite its constant humor.
In the simplest terms, The Best Man is a middle-school story told through the eyes of a boy in sixth grade. It covers many of the real issues that middle-school children may face – bullying, teachers good and bad, cliques, change, parental divorce, and gender identity, just to name a few. You might think that list is too long for a children’s book. But the opposite is true. Because it covers everything, by the time you finish the book, you are living in the world that a modern middle school child lives in. Of course, there are some exaggerated, unrealistic scenes, but they are more for the humor than anything else.
What can I say about my reading experience of this daring children’s book? First, I laughed out loud so many times that tears were running down my face. Second, I was totally blindsided by the gender issues that are raised so honestly, so caringly, that I found my own consciousness was changed by the time I finished the book. Because things came as a surprise, I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone. I do suggest that every parent read this children’s book first, before passing it on to their kids. There is so much content that will create fabulous parent/child conversations.
I applaud Richard Peck for this amazing contribution to understanding today’s world, seen through the eyes of a pre-teen. This children’s book may not be for everyone – it is thoroughly modern, it is not a fairy-tale school where all is well, but it is an important, and in my opinion, a must- read book. I believe it could easily be read from ages 11 to 14.