Have you ever come to the tragic realization that someone is not who you thought they were? Unfortunately, many of us have, and it just may be the worst feeling there is. In The Best Kind of People, Zoe Whittle recounts an extreme instance of one of these devastating realizations in a powerful, yet astoundingly relatable manner.
George Woodbury, husband of Joan and father of Sadie and Andrew is accused of multiple counts of sexual assault and an account of rape. Prior to these accusations, George held an upstanding reputation in his community as notorious Teacher of the Year, the man who once apprehended an armed man attempting a school shooting, a prototypically wonderful father and husband, and an all-around good guy in every sense of the word. Naturally, when I learned of the subject matter of this novel I was expecting and almost longing for smoke and mirrors with a side of extreme drama. For a fleeting moment I was sad to learn this wasn’t going to be the case. Though, only pages in, I was delighted to find that this novel is hardly about Mr Woodbury at all, but rather, the fractured existence he left behind and the people struggling to exist within it.
The novel grapples with complex topics such as consent on a tangible, human level in such a way that you may not even realize it at first. Something I hadn’t thought of prior to delving into this novel was that fact that we are all only human, therefore we can only deal with dramatic events as such; in a human, relatable, real, non-poetic, messy, disorganized, unpredictable fashion. When we experience a trauma, we don’t get to be the tragic, romantic, figure we think we will become. In fact, we simply remain ourselves. When we hear of a controversial court case we look to the accused. We may give a distant thought to their loved ones, but in the end, we all wish we were sitting on that jury collecting the tantalizing details and one-upping each other in a “who knows most” sort of fashion.
The novel is told through the eyes of those who George left behind. The reader watches as Sadie struggles with bullying from those who believe the rumours and support from those who believe the accusers are silly young girls who drank too much and regretted their decisions in the morning. We watch as women jump at the chance to discount other women’s accounts of their assaults on the grounds that “men’s rights are human rights.” Tragic, right? Joan receives threats and accusations about how “there’s no way she couldn’t have known” and the family watches as those who the regarded as friends fade into the periphery for fear of getting caught up in the drama.
This novel is so challenging in such a lovely way as it pushes the reader to a near breaking point in the face of the injustice and ignorance, but brings you right back through the relate-ability of the characters and their of-so-human reactions. Each of the Woodbury children grapples with notions of consent on a personal level in addition to grappling with their father’s accusations. Your skin will crawl, your heart will hurt, your fists will ball with rage, but in the end, the trial does not matter, the verdict does not matter, and George Woodbury does not matter. What matters is sexuality, consent, freedom, acceptance, self, and each and everything thing young adults are forced to reason within this world that offers an astounding lack of resources. Because, in the end, it’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s human, and we’re humans, trying to exist and understand said existence.
This novel is the most digestible form of a social kick in the pants that I’ve ever come across. Put simply, give it a read.
Written by :: Britanny Burr / @britburr