The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
Random House Publishing Group: 9/19/17
advanced reading copy: 448 pages
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall is a highly recommended
examination of a family after their husband/father is accused of
multiple incidents of sexual misconduct with a minor.
The police showed up at midnight on Sadie Woodbury's 17th birthday to
arrest her father, George, and charged him with multiple cases of sexual
misconduct. George teaches science at the local prep school and has
been named Teacher of the Year every year since he stopped a gun man
from hurting anyone at the school. Joan, his wife, is a well-respected
ER nurse. Their oldest son, Andrew is a lawyer in NYC with a boyhood
being bullied at Avalon. The charges seem inconceivable. How could the
man they love and trust be guilty of the charges?
The novel does not focus on George, who is in prison awaiting trial
during the novel, but on his family and how they are handling the
accusations and recriminations. Joan vacillates between denial and rage.
Her sister, Clara, comes in to support her and condemns George. She
finds a support group and attempts to work through her emotions. Sadie,
who was a popular student body leader is now an outcast and becomes
reclusive, using marijuana to escape. Andrew rallies to support his
family and father, but returning home brings unpleasant memories of
abuse as a gay teen in a small town back to haunt him. They all are
experiencing shock, various degrees of denial, and confusion. Along with
the community scrutiny, judgement, and gossip, a writer decides to pen a
lurid novel based on the story and a men's rights activist group
rallies to George's defense.
The Woodburys were viewed as successful pillars of the community before
the charges. Whittall focuses on the fact that once accusations of a
crime of this magnitude are given voice it is impossible for her
characters to ignore or not consider the validity of the charges, which
completely changes how they view the person they thought they knew.
Additionally, the charges against one family member affect all the
family members. After an eventful opening when the arrest happens, the
novel slows down the pace and covers how the emotions of the family
members shift and change over the months leading up to the trial.
Really, we are viewing the loss of trust and the psychological
destruction of the Woodbury family.
While well-written and engrossing, there are a few missteps. The
addition of the writer detracted from the novel's strengths while
muddied the focus of the plot and wasn't really necessary. How Joan,
Sadie, and Andrew were handling the crisis and their emotions, along
with all the social ramifications they were experiencing should have
remained the focus. Personally, I liked the ending, even though it did
seem a wee bit rushed and just sort of wound down. While it might seem
muddled to some readers, it did capture the idea that some events change
a person forever and never really have a perfect resolution. (Probably a
My review copy was courtesy of Random House Publishing Group.