A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
A few young kids show off their advanced vocabularies. And Tango Makes Three and Daddy's Roommate, two children's books about gay couples and nontraditional families, factor into the plot. Information on military dog training, duty, and life after deployment. Chicago landmarks and culture are mentioned, as is some other Midwest geography.
Family members should pull together and take care of one another. It's good to try new things. Give people a second chance; you might not know as much about them and their problems as you think you do. Being gay isn't a choice. It is never OK to bully anyone, and you should act when you see bullying. When life gives you unpleasant surprises, learn to roll with them, and good things may happen. Growing up is about emotional maturity as much as physical changes.
Positive Role Models
The book deals with Archer talking about his role models -- his dad, his uncle, his grandfather, and a teacher -- and why he wants to be like them. Archer's dad and mom are good parents who take time for their kids. Archer's dad lovingly cares for his ailing father. Uncle Paul is a great adult role model to Archer: He listens, takes him out, and helps him with his problems. Mr. McLeod bravely confronts school bullies. Lynette is a funny, honest, take-charge friend to Archer.
Violence & Scariness
The few moments of violence in the book aren't graphic or intense. A fellow first-grader pulls a knife on Archer in the bathroom. The aftermath of a schoolyard fight is depicted, but nothing serious happens. Archer's school is briefly put on lockdown over a false alarm. A boy is shown after being tied to a sink in the boys' bathroom.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some talk among the kids about dating, but nothing serious or sexually charged. A gay relationship between two adults figures into the plot. Archer makes a few references to his pregnant teacher and her sonograms. Archer's mom jokes with him about finding him in a cabbage patch, but they skirt the talk of where babies really come from.
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"Butt" is the strongest language.
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Products & Purchases
Numerous products and media mentioned for scene setting and cultural references. Characters described by the brands of clothing they wear and cars they drive. Products and media mentioned include Trader Joe's, PayPal, Audi, YouTube, FedEx, Shell gas station, Kleenex, Angry Birds, Tupperware, Nordstrom, Gucci, Gatorade, Facebook, Skype, Applebee's, Twitter, Whole Foods, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, MacBook Air, Uber, Starbucks, Costco, Walgreens, ABC News, Fox News, WGN, and Kmart.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Best Man is about a boy's journey into the middle school years and the male role models in his life. Archer Magill humorously narrates his life in elementary school: the ups and downs, the turning points, and life with his family, especially his dad, his uncle, and his grandpa. He learns some life lessons and discovers that maturing is about more than growing taller and getting a deeper voice. Even though the tone is light, the book touches on important topics such as friendships, love, death, same-sex marriage, and bullying. There are a few scenes of violence, but nothing graphic. The content is tame overall, with no swearing, drinking, or drug use. Archer's friendship with Lynette could spark discussion about how boys and girls navigate friendships with each other.
Is It Any Good?
Archer Magill is a funny, sweet narrator who hilariously conveys how confusing life can be for kids. The Best Man deftly deals with important topics such as loss of a loved one, bullying, and same-sex marriage without being heavy-handed. This humorous, light touch will resonate with kids for this reason, and it will appeal to parents who can discuss these topics with their kids. Some of the situations that crop up in the book are over the top, and some of the side characters fall into clichés -- for example, the thuggish bully, the prissy know-it-all, and the bumbling teacher. Fortunately, all the main characters are well-developed, interesting, and engaging.
Archer's journey from first grade through sixth and the situations he encounters are fun to follow. He goes from not understanding what's going on around him to eventually keying in on conversations and social nuances. It is nice to see a book show this aspect of maturing into a young adult. Much of the book centers on Archer's relationships with his male role models. They all bring something different to his life and help him grow into a good young man. The story is funny, poignant, and heartwarming. It'll give younger readers a lot to think about while also entertaining them.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.