literary fiction

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall


I’ve read that The Best Kind of People has been optioned by Sarah Polley as a movie and reading it, I can totally see why that would happen. It almost reads like a script as-is (Zoe Whittall does write for television so that makes sense)–a valued member of the community and high school teacher who already gained fame for stopping a school shooting, is accused by young teenagers of sexual assault. The book really isn’t about him, though, it is really about the fallout from the arrest and how it affects his family. The book has some flaws, the book ends quite quickly with slapped together epilogue and some of the dialogue seems forced but the story was interesting enough.

I can’t say I related to any of the characters. The mom was oddly unformed, she was a trauma nurse but seemed to have zero personal coping skills. The daughter who goes to the school where her father taught was once popular and now ostracized by most of her peers except for her boyfriend. She also develops a crush on a novelist who, unbeknownst to her, is working on a book based on her family’s troubles. Her (much??*) older brother is gay and there is a lot of time spent on his abuse at the hands of his preppy, privileged classmates and his relationship at 17 with a coach at his school. Not sure why it was in a book about the sexual assault of teenagers at the hands of a teacher when the point was made many times that his relationship was consensual and because he pursued the teacher. It really muddled the story.

We also never know for sure exactly what the teacher is accused of doing or if he actually did it. An earlier crime comes out of nowhere that hints that he could have been guilty but then so does an alibi from a nutter who is steadfast in her acceptance of his innocence.

I’m not sorry I read the book but I think it could have been much better, the editor really failed this novel.


*I could never figure out the time line, he went to high school in the late nineties yet he also seemed to be in his twenties/early thirties when the book takes place in the present day. The book made a reference to Britney Spears being 30 (she is 35 now) but also made references to current politics. One interview with the author points out that she started the book about 6 years before it was published with makes sense but a good editor should have fixed these details.

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