The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this novel.

There was no way that Whittall could have foreseen the timely publication of her third novel with the press about Harvey Weinstein. There is no denying that the idea of abuse by people in power is very relevant and at the forefront of people’s minds. With the birth of snap chat, Facebook etc I think as parents we have to be hyper vigilant with our children’s safety. It is said that children grow up too fast and as a parent this is definitely something I am aware of. Even at 4, my daughter is aware of make-up and handsome princes. 4 going on 34 and it is scary. God only knows what life will be like when she is 14 and has secrets. Terrifying.

The Best Kind of People is a novel about what happens when a loved, respected, even hero worshipped member of a small community, is accused of sexual impropriety. The novel doesn’t really dwell at all on the feelings of George Woodbury, the accused. Woodbury is the ‘best kind of People.’ He is a teacher from a wealthy family. Adored by his children and students and married to Joan, a hard working nurse.

I have to admit that I thought I had read books like this before but Whittall had a really fresh take on a well publicised topic. George is not a character that is developed and his trial is not dwelt on. The novel centres around the reactions and relationships of his family.

Avalon is a small town in Connecticut. The community are rocked by the accusations. To some, the Woodbury’s become social pariahs. To others, George is a victim, accused by overtly sexual and knowing girls to cover up their mistakes and poor judgement.

Sadie, his daughter is torn between the realisation that the father she loved is not the man she thought he was. One of the girls accusing George is the little sister of her best friend. She can’t bring herself to see her father and so moves in with her boyfriend Jimmy’s family. Here begins another uncomfortable relationship with the boyfriend of Jimmy’s mother. Sadie’s provocative behaviour, and smoking of marijuana to impress and seduce a much older man is both sinister and scary. Scary because it happens.

George’s son Andrew chooses to support his father. Coming out as gay in his small home town was traumatising for him and he was badly bullied. As a lonely teenager, he begins a clandestine relationship with his school coach. A man who is afraid of coming out as he knows what the reaction will be in his small town. Depressing, but it happens.

Joan, George’s wife is a great character. Herself a well loved and respected member of the community she has to come to terms with the fact that her husband had a separate life. Could she have done anything? Did she have her eyes closed the whole time? Only seeing what she wanted to see?

In a world where lines of proprietary are often blurred, how far do you have to go before it’s too far? Obviously George’s actions cannot be justified but how about a 17 year old boy and a teacher in his 20s? Yes without doubt an abuse of trust but is it as bad as a teacher in his 40s with a 12 year old? In the eyes of the law yes but is it the same? I think what Whittall is saying is that ‘even the best kind of people’ are capable of doing terrible things. The world is not black and white and particularly in this age of social media we have to be more aware of lines being crossed. This book really tackles the idea of power and sex and how easily it can be abused. The topic isn’t easy but I respect the fact that Whittall hasn’t shied away from the big issues we all should be aware of.

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