Secrets can divide us. They can turn an entire community on its side. The sheltered, upper-class small town of Avalon Hills is no exception to that, no matter whose secrets they are. Ten years ago, George Woodbury was deemed a hero when he singlehandedly stopped a gunman at the prep school where he was a popular science teacher, earning him an American Citizen Award for bravery, and the “Teacher of the Year” title every year after that. Now, his family is about to be torn apart as he is unexpectedly placed under arrest one Sunday night. The charges? Three counts of sexual impropriety with a minor, one count of attempted rape of a minor. His family, who reside at Woodbury Lake, a prestigious suburb in Avalon Hills founded by George’s ancestor, faces the repercussions that these allegations have on their own lives. Joan, his wife, toes the line between denial and fury. Andrew, the eldest son, moves home from New York to come to his father’s defence. And Sadie, their 17-year-old daughter and now social pariah at school, tries to cope with the best ways a teenager can, even though they aren’t necessarily the wisest choices. The Best Kind of People is their story.
If Zoe Whittall set out to write an emotionally complex novel that’ll leave you racing to the end of the book’s 400 or so pages to find out the truth, she definitely succeeded. I’d say it was a home run. A slam dunk. A… well, it was beautiful, and I’m not using that word lightly. This book made my heart race and my palms sweat. It kept me fixed for hours, flipping through page after page, enthralled. Whittall has been blessed with an extraordinary skill: that of perfectly executed descriptive writing. She manages to describe the characters and the setting of upper-class suburbia in such way that made me feel like I was in the middle of it all, soaking up every detail, every character trait, and having no trouble picturing these intricate characters in my mind.
“Sadie and Jimmy jogged up the dirt path, wet bare feet on the stones between the bramble that curled into the sloping backyard. They were breathless when they reached the plateau, pausing where a row of kale and lettuces grew, waiting to be culled on her mother’s gardening day the following weekend. The rectangular in-ground pool that bordered their back deck made its usual hum of white noise. A circular hot tub, currently on the fritz, faced out onto the lake, edging out over the sharp lip of the hill. Ornate gardens sculpted carefully to appear wild surrounded the pool. Sadie leaned down and rubbed some lavender between her palms, cupping her hands around her face to inhale the warm scent on her way to the side entrance.”
Sadie is by far the most well-written, and watching her cope with the impact of having a father accused of being a sex offender tugged at my heart strings more than once. She’s a teenager who goes from student-body president to social outcast at the drop of a hat, and you can’t help but sympathize with her coping mechanism of skipping school, hiding out at her boyfriend’s house and stealing pot from the boy’s step dad just to take the edge off.
The Best Kind of People is not the type of book I usually read. Not by a long shot. I like novels that take me away from reality. Something that makes me forget about the troubles of the real world. I like to read about things that don’t happen in everyday life. This book, however, is everyday life, it is the real world. Rape culture seems to be a taboo subject for many people. Some don’t want to acknowledge its existence, some dismiss its legitimacy. Some are just too afraid to bring up the horrors that lie within it, tucking everything away in a corner of their mind, unable to deal with the reality of it. Zoe Whittall manages to broach the topic in a way that’ll leave you thinking long after you’ve closed the book. It’ll open your eyes to victim blaming and slut-shaming, double standards, the meaning of consent and the debate on whether or not things are simply black and white in these sorts of situations, or if there’s a grey area. The subject matter has some weight to it, there’s no doubt about that, but the read is worth it. Every single word of it. Maybe it’ll spark more dialogue on rape culture. I hope it does.
What is the best part about Whittall’s The Best Kind of People? The story doesn’t focus on George Woodbury at all. We only encounter him a handful of times, and he is definitely not the main character. No, this book focuses on his family, how they’re being torn apart, exploited, tried and tested, raked over the coals and brought together, all with an audience of small town snobs, and all because of the secrets of a man they thought they knew. This book will make you rethink things you thought you understood, question moralities, understand the aspects of humanity and simply feel something. It is the best kind of book.
Myryam Ladouceur is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, aspiring to work in the editing and publishing business. She likes to write short stories and poetry, doodle on any surface available, and read whatever catches her eye. She hopes to one day have the privilege to edit the next great novel of her generation.