The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

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“A practical joke? It’s so strange.”

George shook his head. “I really don’t know. ” This was a phrase George- learned, stoic, opinionated- rarely used. He prided himself on knowing the things that really mattered. 

Is it a joke? Could George have possibly done what he is accused of? As Joan watched George cuffed and led away, everything she thought she knew about her husband, marriage and family comes into question. Is it all just a ‘mistake’ to be ‘sorted out’ or is it so much more serious than George is letting on? Accused by students of ‘sexual impropriety’ the did he didn’t he consumes the novel. This beloved man, the very man that prevented an early event that could have been a tragedy at the school now stands accused, but who is the liar? His daughter knows her father is a kind man, a good father, nerdy even! For Sadie’s birthday, this is more nightmare, it can’t be real- being questioned as if her father is some sort of molester pervert! He is a teacher of the year winner, every year, he is beloved in the community. How could they turn on him so fast? Yet, why would the young girls lie, though they are devious? His family, daughter Sadie just turned 17 and son, Andrew returning home realizing the severity of the accusations along with their mother Joan are left to make sense of the nightmare. The family splinters, each searching for solid ground alone. Andrew has an immediate sense that his father could never do such a thing, detached from all things bodily. Joan, where is her mind in all of this? What if he is guilty, then something is wrong with him, an illness? Joan is an intuitive woman, wouldn’t she have known if he were that sort of man? A fascinating part of the novel is the ‘inappropriate’ relationship Andrew had in the past. with a coach. It raises questions about boundaries.

The story never gets much into George’s head, the accusations aren’t deeply explored which I was waiting for. Maybe the intention is for the reader to feel like the family members and the community, to not really know the truth. It begs the question, do you blindly stand beside your loved one always, even if you aren’t sure you believe in their innocence? I wanted to chew on the accusers and George, I wanted some fight! What is worse, though, then not knowing for sure either way? Interesting is the sides taken by the female teachers, something one wouldn’t expect or would they? What will happen if Joan and the children discover he is guilty? That maybe something is the past can tie to the present accusations?

I wish I could rant a bit about the ‘truth’ or one of the things we do know later about George, but I can’t ruin the story. The focus is on his children and wife more than George or his accusers. An interesting ending, I think. An uncomfortable story, because anytime young girls and older men are involved as a female it shakes you. I went into this expecting to get into George’s mind more, and you do briefly but again- it isn’t really about him.

The problem is, even if we try to remain fair, most of us will have an opinion of guilt or innocence with the majority of news we hear. We deny it, but people still look at a suspect and say ‘he looks like a criminal’ but even looking upstanding (whatever the heck that means) can be suspect too.  Some jump to believe a child, and usually the child is telling the truth, but there have been cases (look it up) that were lies though it’s my belief the usual reality is people get away with horrendous crimes against children. Now I digress… this is the tale of the family of the accused and how their lives split open because of it. Innocent or not, the family is never going to be the same. You can’t unknow the truth, and if it’s the past that rises up, can you forgive? Should you?

Even the Best Kind of People are flawed. I read a review that mentioned Sara Polly may make a movie out of this (writing and directing an adaptation)  I am giving her a shameless plug, I loved Take This Waltz which came out in 2011, I would love to see this novel on the big screen with her touch.

Publication Date: September 19, 2017

Random House

Ballatine Books

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