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Coming of Age at a Gay Wedding in Richard Peck’s The Best Man

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Richard Peck’s new novel, The Best Man, is bookended by weddings. In the first, Archer is 6, a ring bearer and clueless about love. By the second, he’s 12, a best man and a lot more enlightened: the uncle he idolizes is marrying a teacher he idolizes. The newlyweds are men.

Peck, who won the 2001 Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder, masterfully frames issues of sexuality for young readers, translating the message that “love is love” for a demographic still navigating first crushes. The novel paces through questions kids tend to ask when they become aware of gay relationships: “When did you decide to be gay?” Archer asks his uncle. His sister wonders who’s the groom and who’s the bride. On both counts, they learn, it doesn’t work like that.

The tone is lighthearted, but the message of acceptance is unequivocal. When three kids gang up on another and write Gay on his forehead, Archer’s teacher explains what a slur is and what labels mean. “Stay away from people who don’t know who they are but want you to be just like them,” he tells the class. “People who’ll want to label you. People who’ll try to write their fears on your face.”

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