The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall Hodder and Stoughton July 13th 2017
The Woodbury family are rich, they have lived and indeed had an overriding influence on the community of the small Connecticut town in which they reside.
George Woodbury, current head of the family, is a well respected teacher at local private school, Avalon Heights. Famed for saving his daughter Sadie, from a gunman in the corridor of the school George has super hero status, that it is until he is arrested for possible rape and sexual molestation of Avalon school girls on a ski trip.
The family gather round unable to believe his guilt. The wife Joan, in total denial, brother Andrew, a hot city lawyer, a man struggling with his sexuality, and Sadie, the daughter who idolised her father and the only one who perhaps believes he is guilty.
As the community railes against the family, they each must face up to the terrible consequences of George’s arrest and deal with the slow implosion of their neat, respectable family life.
The story particularly concentrates on the character of Sadie. Sadie is intelligent, top of her class, destined for a top notch college, happy with her boyfriend Jimmy and their numerous friends. George’s arrest is particularly catastrophic for Sadie. This wonderful Father, she so clearly adored, who saved her from the gunman has now been knocked from his pedestal. Sadie must reevaluate just who he is and more importantly who she is, to the point of shutting herself off from her family, and hiding herself away at Jimmy’s house. As her friends desert her and she begins to dabble in weed she develops a crush on her boyfriends mothers partner, Kevin. Kevin is writing a novel with little success until he realises he has the ultimate story right on his doorstep. Cultivating his relationship with Sadie he slowly weedles out her feelings and the details of George’s misdemeanors with devastating consequences for Sadie.
Whittall is particularly adept at portraying Sadie’s ever increasing conflicting emotions, her deteriorating relationships with her family. I loved the parallel story of Sadie falling under Kevin’s advances alongside the emerging details of her Father’s sexual assault charges. It perfectly highlights how young girls are so vulnerable and can be so easily drawn in and flattered by the attentions of an older man. It is so clearly a story of our times.
George’s wife, Joan was a character that I found particularly irritating, but I think that is how the author wanted me to feel! A woman so clearly in denial, inept at dealing with the fallout, I wanted to shake her , to tell her to wake up and deal with the situation. I was relieved when she finally did seem to act but there was always the nagging doubt that husband George would always find a way to draw her back in.
George is the one character in the novel that I found a little predictable. The typical rich, respectable pillar of the community, with a dark secret. Manipulative, clever and a little smarmy, using his finances to cover his tracks, to protect himself. He just wasn’t edgy enough for me!
Whittall is very good at highlighting small town mentality, of the nuances of people hell bent at protecting their respectability, and the twist and turns in the novel beautifully highlight the many contradictions in the communities in which we live.
Whittall has written a novel that reflects the times in which we find ourselves and she has done it very well.
Thank you to Francine Toon and Hodder and Stoughton for the proof copy to read and review.
About the author
Born in South Durham, Quebec Whittall has lived in Toronto since 1997. She is the author of two previous novels, Bottle Rocket Hearts and Staying Still for as Long as Possible. The Best Kind of People was shortlisted for The Gillier Prize in 2016