Book Review: Unwind with “The Best Kind of People” by Zoe Whittall

I love to read – mysteries, dramas, romances, historical fiction, classics… Whatever. Anything and everything. Big surprise, right? I’m a writer who loves to read – such a rarity.

But I’m busy! Just like you. And, at the end of some days, I’m just so, so tired! And, on those days, I usually don’t have the energy to pick up a book that’s going to make me think. On those days, I don’t care if it’s a book that is critically-acclaimed or makes me interesting at dinner parties... I want an escape. Don’t get me wrong, I love those books too and those books have their place in my life. And, for some, those might be the calming kinds of books. But, for me, sometimes I just want a book that’s going to keep me turning the pages, chapter after chapter.

All us bookworms know that a good book can wrench at your soul and tug at all your emotions, and make you stay up way past your bedtime. And, because of this, a good book can make you feel a little extra tired. But, it can also make you feel light and refreshed at the same time. Why? Because reading is a bit like meditation. When you’re in the middle of a good book, you’re completely distracted from your own issues, concerns, and responsibilities. You’re not thinking about that deadline you have on Monday or that presentation you’ve been stressing about. You’re not thinking about that friend who loves to be dramatic or that disagreement you just had with your boss. Between the pages of a good book is a kind of sanctuary from each of life’s common stresses. When I'm tired and stressed, I want my book to give me the same kind of mental escape from reality that comes with a good Netflix binge.

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall is one of those books.

It’s so well-written and easy-to-read. It's a story about a town divided when George Woodbury, a well-liked teacher at a prestigious prep school, is arrested for sexual impropriety with a student. He’s known to be an upstanding citizen, a loving husband and father, and, generally, a good man. But the story is not a who-done-it. The story is about his family – the mild-mannered wife, the over-achieving daughter, and the son who escaped high school to the big city. Whittall reminds us of the narratives of the innocent bystanders who are, by association with the accused, put on social trial and ostracized by people who were once friends, colleagues, and neighbours.

But it's a page-turner. It isn’t because you have to find out what happens or who did it. It’s because of how real she makes the story feel. There were times, late at night, where I forgot that this wasn’t a book inspired by a true event. I forgot that this didn't actually happen and these characters aren't actually living, breathing people. The story felt real and the characters felt authentic. I couldn’t stop caring about what was going on in their minds and what they were going through. I felt connected to them.

After I read the book, I spoke with a friend who was thinking of reading this book for their book club. I strongly recommended it but was told that some members of the group felt less interested after reading Amazon reviews. Completely at a loss as to what could have been said, I went online. Like there is for every book, there are good reviews and there are bad reviews, and there are some mediocre reviews. However, the book still has a 4/5-star rating and was a "Heather’s Pick" in Chapters so I don’t know why people would have been concerned. It's clearly still a well-liked book.

One Amazon review stuck in my mind. It expanded on an idea that a few other reviews touched on as well. The reviewer felt that the book was unfinished. That it didn’t culminate well. I guess they felt that there was no final surge of emotion, things didn’t get resolved, and there were no obvious lessons learned, like some might expect as they get involved in the story. I mean, I can kind of understand where they’re coming from but, to me, it’s not a bad thing. I get why someone who hasn’t read the book would find this a bit of a turn-off. When you sit down to a book, you expect the ending to be everything you hope for – happy, sad, angry… Whatever it may be… But you expect some sort of impactful ending. And it’s true that The Best Kind of People doesn’t really have that. At least, I didn’t find that it did. But that’s one of the things I liked most about it. It feels real. Life doesn’t work with properly culminated endings. Happy, sad, or shitty events don’t always give a clear lesson. Sometimes they do. But not always. Sometimes, what you’re looking for is just the story. Sometimes it's just about going along for the ride. This book is filled with emotional insight and unique narratives. It’s a story that we can identify as a real possibility in our own culture, and we know that it would top the headlines. And we know that the story of the accused’s family's struggles would likely not make it into the headlines. We wouldn't think of the family as victims as well. There's a good chance their struggles wouldn't even cross our minds. Who knows? That's what makes this book so enjoyable – it’s a story of compassion and empathy, with characters who could easily be someone in our lives. It's a good remind

It’s a good read. If you’re looking to switch off Netflix or CraveTV and get into a book before bed, I recommend this one. Zoe Whittall sucks you right into this story.

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