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The Best Kind of People: A Novel Paperback – August 7, 2018
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“A gripping novel, one that shines a light on family dynamics under extreme pressure.”—The Vancouver Sun
“Zoe Whittall’s undisputed talent as a writer shines, as does her understanding into the complexity of our sympathies, our morality, and our humanity. With incredible empathy and undeniable skill this book is sure to spark much-needed dialogue, vital debate, and richly deserved acclaim.”—Stacey May Fowles, author of Infidelity
“The Best Kind of People examines the effects of rape culture on an entire community with rare nuance and insight. Every character is fully rounded, flawed, and achingly human. It puts me in mind of a twenty-first-century Ordinary People.”—Kate Harding, author of Asking for It
“The Best Kind of People gets into the hearts and minds of an ordinary family forced to confront the monstrous. This novel is a timely discussion of what we owe those who abuse and those who are targeted in our communities.”—Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman
“This may just be Whittall’s breakout novel, and deservedly so.”—The Winnipeg Review
“Taut, compassionate and clever.”—Toronto Star
About the Author
Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People was a bestseller in Canada. It was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was chosen as Indigo’s #1 Book of the Year for 2016. Her debut novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of the Year and CBC Canada Reads’ Top Ten Essential Novels of the Decade. Her second novel, Holding Still for as Long as Possible, won a Lambda Literary Award and was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. She was awarded the K. M. Hunter Artist Award for Literature in 2016. Her writing has appeared in The Walrus, The Believer, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Fashion, and more. She has also worked as a writer and story editor on television shows such as Degrassi, Schitt’s Creek, and Baroness von Sketch Show. Born in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, she has an MFA from the University of Guelph and lives in Toronto.
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This novel is divided into four parts, a prologue and an epilogue. Part one is the first week, part two is the next four months, part three is the week before the trial, and part four is the trial. I found the first part impossible to put down, but as the time period covered lengthened my attention wandered, and the more manipulated I felt. The quote that begins this story is anything but neutral, and those that lean towards one conclusion are intelligent, while those who are sure of the other outcome are portrayed as bigoted and ignorant. Church members are sanctimonious do-gooders. The family son is gay and the daughter (minor spoiler) ends up majoring in gender studies when she goes to college. Several subplots serve as exemplars of how high school students can fall for adults. One seems intended as an example of a consensual relationship between student and teacher, and another plot shows how a student’s crush on an adult could develop and perhaps lead to a relationship the adult never intended. The benign treatment of one student-teacher relationship was off-putting, and the crush didn’t ring true. A surprise crime is revealed and conclusions are reached without much debate.
Ultimately my enjoyment of the book was hampered by my dislike of and disbelief in some of the characters and their actions. Like a defendant kept off the stand by a savvy lawyer, George spends most of his time off stage. Wife Joan was the only one who rang true to me throughout. Son Andrew seemed to be destined to exemplify the toll crisis can take on relationships, and daughter Sadie fell apart while still keeping it together enough to remain gorgeous and college bound. Sadie, 17, lives like no high school student I’ve ever known, making decisions like where she wants to live and informing her mother afterward, almost like an afterthought. Most unbelievably, she remains enrolled at the same school at which her father had been a teacher. A poor student may have no choice but to remain enrolled in public school, but someone enrolled in an elite private school has options. Most of what we know about his accusers is secondhand, as their perceived innocence is discussed by other. I would have liked to have seen more of them.
George, the father, is a beloved science teacher at the local prep school in Connecticut and also a hero that thwarted a killing a few years back. His wife, Joan, is a nurse; his daughter, Sadie, is an honors student at the prep school; and his son, Andrew, is an attorney in NYC.
I liked the beginning, as I mentioned (thus a two star rating rather than one), but never felt any type of resolution with the story. There were all kinds of conflicting messages being sent, especially involving Sadie and Andrew, and I just felt the author never had control over the story. There were many stereotypical characters - rich girl, poor girl, boyfriend - just to name a few. And there weren't any of the characters that I had any positive feelings for.
And the ending sucked. Talk about mixed messages - about teen sex, about drug use, about drinking, and about non-consensual sex. By the end of the book, I felt rather tainted, like I needed to wash my hands.
I received this book from Penguin Random House through Net Galley in exchange for my unbiased review.
The rest of the book primarily deals with the emotional trauma that is endured by Joan, Andrew and Sadie. Sadie becomes the target of abuse and ridicule at school and is hounded by reporters. She decides to go live at her boyfriend's house for a while, where she is not well supervised. She keeps up with her school work, but manages to avoid to going to most of her classes. Joan vacillates between denial and conviction that George really did the crime. Andrew, while he wants to properly support his father, is also torn with indecision about how he feels about the mess. Joan and Andrew visit George regularly in prison; however Sadie only goes once and can't stand to go back, though she talks to George once a week on the phone.
Curiously, there is little discussion about the upcoming trial, or any fact finding or trial preparation; and there is no discussion at all about the alleged crimes. Nevertheless, the tension continues to rise throughout the novel as other revelations about George's past come to light. It was easy to empathize with each of the 3 main characters and to wonder how I would fare in a similar situation. You can think you know someone better than anyone else in the world, but they still have secrets.
Unfortunately, the end of the novel just fizzled - like a balloon with a slow leak. Pfffft ! It was not a satisfactory ending at all, and the effort of carefully developing the characters for 400+ pages didn't result in any personal revelations or redemption for any of them. I enjoyed the first 400 pages of the novel, and hated the last 30. This one could use a rewrite !