The Best Kind of People: A Novel
by Zoe Whittall
Hardcover- $16.24

A local schoolteacher is arrested, leaving his family to wrestle with the possibility of his guilt, in this exquisite novel about loyalty, ...

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  "Do we ever truly know another person?" by thewanderingjew (see profile) 11/28/17

The book opens with a scene that has become all too familiar. A man, with a crazed look and mad thoughts dancing around in his head, enters a school and appears to be aiming at Sadie, a seven year old child who is standing at her locker with her lucky koala bear eraser. He is actually tackled and taken down by her father, a teacher at that private school. The crazed gunmen disappears and George Woodbury becomes the town hero. For years is lauded everywhere. This scene is only a moment in time to establish George as a good person. Did he do what anyone would do when faced with such danger? How would you react?
Fast forward ten years later and the theme of the book changes. Sadie is celebrating her seventeenth birthday. She is with her boyfriend Jimmy. On this fateful night, her father is arrested for assaulting four teenage girls in the very same private school she attends and he teaches in, on the ski trip that he chaperoned that year. One young girl is even accusing him of attempted rape. Sadie moves in with her boyfriend’s family. Is this a good idea? His mom lives with her boyfriend Kevin, sort of a has-been author. Will she be properly supervised?
What is the real story here? Is it about sexual deviance, promiscuous children, ineffective parenting, or the different faces humans present to the world? Is it about the justice system or the injustice system? Is anyone truly the person they seem to be? It takes a long time to find out, and that is actually a redeeming feature of this book, which seems at times to be almost a cliché, with characters who become caricatures of themselves.
All of the featured characters communicate poorly with each other. All have secrets. Looking in on them, from the outside, the Woodbury's seem to be the perfect family. They are happily married. They have money; they are involved in all the right organizations, and they are on all the right committees. Even Sadie is involved in student leadership. Andrew is doing well in his life and his career in New York City. He has been in a monogamous relationship for several years. They are, indeed, beautiful people, but they are also stereotypes of some adults and children today who do not fit every mold perfectly, but who dance to their own drummer and sometimes make foolish choices. Sadie is sexually active. She is planning to attend college. Andrew is openly gay. He lives in Greenwich Village with his partner, Jared. Andrew is a lawyer and Jared owns a salon. Joan is a nursing supervisor. George is an educator. His family was wealthy, and he has inherited a fortune. They live in a beautiful residence and are able to have an extraordinary lifestyle.
As the story progresses, I was struck with how quickly the town that lauded George, turned vehemently against him, never giving him the benefit of the doubt. The only group that didn’t rush to judgment was on the fringe of what society deemed acceptable. Why was George’s family so quick to jump to the conclusion that he might be guilty? Hadn’t he exhibited exemplary behavior up until these accusations came to light? Hadn’t he been beloved by his community and workplace? Yet, only his gay son seemed loyal and believed in his innocence. Sadie, his loving daughter, questioned his actions. What if he did it? She didn't want any part of him, at first. She didn't want to visit him in prison, although he had never given her reason to do so. She was ostracized at school. People blamed her and her mother. They believed that Joan, his loving wife, had to have known. Joan feared the accusations could be true. How could she have lived with a man accused of such behavior and not seen it? Although she discovers that their fortune has greatly diminished, she never seems to find out why or to insist on answers. She is knowingly and willingly deceiving herself about her relationship with George and their life together. He has kept secrets from her. Bennie the lawyer has been complicit in hiding his secrets. Her sister Clara believes George is guilty. He was always too nice, too good to be true. Kevin, Elaine's beau, decides to write a book about them. He is a self-serving human being. Elaine throws him out. Sadie develops a crush on Kevin, misinterpreting his interest in her as romantic. Kevin smokes pot every night and even allows Sadie to do it with him. Sadie and Jimmy have been stealing his pot all along, anyway, he discovers. Soon, Sadie dumps Jimmy in favor of her fantasy about Kevin. Is this the author’s way of showing that girls can become promiscuous and often entrap a man? Is it to make the reader wonder about George’s guilt or innocence? Would the teen’s behavior have anything to do with George’s guilt? Then again, George may be innocent. Teens keep secrets also. Is this all a conspiracy to frame George? He is very immature, as are all the characters. They are kind of under-cooked characters, who never fully matured, and they are not likable.
Are they really the best kind of people as the title indicates? As the reader soon learns, outside appearances are deceptive. False faces are presented by many. Who is real and who is hiding something? Those who we think are stellar pillars of society or model children are doing things behind their parents’ backs, often with their parents’ quiet acknowledgment or acceptance. No one is perfect. There is a decided lack of discipline and an awkward picture is presented of the characters’ immaturity that prevents their appropriate maturation. Have any of them truly become adults?
In this book, was justice served or was justice blind? Who came out the winner in this tragedy? These questions are raised, and there are many others. It just seemed that the book laid out an obvious route to its conclusion, and there were too many pages to get to that point. Still, the book held my interest, at times making me guess at the guilt or innocence of different characters, at times making me question my own assumptions. For that reason, it is a good read. The book also subtly introduces race, loyalty, gender issues, sexual orientation and our system of criminal justice. It also covers resilience and the ability to deal with trauma. It will make for lively discussion in book groups.
I won this book from the Goodreads group, Life of a Book Club Addict.

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