“The father and the husband, from that moment, had been transformed.”
The story seems eerily familiar. An upstanding citizen, a pillar in the community, is accused of sex-related crimes with minors. In The Best Kind Of People, George Woodbury is a teacher who, years ago, was a hero in a school shooting. Now? He wins Teacher of the Year, and just about everyone trusts him. Well, they do until a few girls come forward with stories about sexual assault and harassment. The word rape is even out there. Once the police arrest him, everything seems to unravel. But the damage is not limited to George—it extends to his family.
The topic of The Best Kind Of People by Zoe Whittall is such a hot button issue. I remember I came across it last year, during the Scotiabank Giller Prize proceedings, but I only got the chance to read it recently, after waiting for a number of weeks for a copy to be available at the library. In any case, I knew I wanted to read it. I wanted to see what this story could say about a topic I hear way too much about in the news.
I wish I did not hear about women being sexually assaulted, raped…It hurts, every time I hear about it. What makes it worse is the victims are seldom believed. They are belittled, terrorized, and ruined. All the same, there is the idea of innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes I want to believe this, but at the same time, I know people rarely lie about being sexually assaulted or raped. Why would they? The backlash and scrutiny the victims receive when they come forward with such a claim would far outweigh anything they could gain by lying.
The problem, in part, is the few people who actually do attempt to lie in some capacity. Of course, I think a large component of the disbelief is also rooted in sexism, including if a man is sexually assaulted.
But, that is getting away from the book. I actually really enjoyed reading this book because I feel it captured the aftereffects of the arrest really well. The family, clearly, struggles with the idea it could be true against staying by George’s side. I imagine this is how anyone would react if their loved one were accused. It would not be a simple break.
Perhaps the most painful thing for me to read in this book was the reactions of others towards Sadie, George’s daughter. Regardless of anything they thought George did, how is it her fault? For all they knew, at least at the beginning, she could have been in the same position as the other girls.
I think The Best Kind of People is well written and definitely gives a decent snapshot into the realm of sexual assault proceedings. My major criticism would be to watch the transitions between perspectives, as sometimes I felt a disconnect and had to pause to remind myself whose perspective it was, what had happened in their “timeline” already, et cetera.
In terms of the writing itself, I definitely think this was a good style to take—getting into the heads of the main cast—though I wish some others, like the victims, got their chance to speak. Some may say this would merit another book…but having all the different sides in one volume is what I want to see, since it would offer the most complete picture of a situation like the one in The Best Kind Of People.
The last thing to address now, then, is the ending of this novel. I cannot reveal too much about how I felt about it, as it would spoil the outcome of the case. However, I think certain parts of the ending were too condensed for my liking. This had nothing to do with the case’s outcome, though I do have strong feelings about it.
Overall, I think The Best Kind Of People is an interesting look into some of the flaws in humanity. I think it shows many ways in which we as a society need to be better. I definitely think it is worth the read!
If you do decide to read it, I would love to hear what you think once you have finished! You can also leave comments if you have already read it prior to reading this review. Did you think the ending was realistic or do you think it deviates from the typical ending to a sexual assault case we see in reality? Did you like the ending? Did you think the ending was too condensed, as I did, or do you think it was just right? How did you feel about the way others treated Sophie? The victims? What did you think about George?
These are just some things I want you to think about to help you get started. Feel free to deviate as you wish. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Title: The Best Kind of People
Author: Zoe Whittall
Publisher: House of Anansi Press