Crimes of the Family: The Best Kind of People

Originally published February 2018

How strong is your family allegiance?

Is there a line you won’t cross when it comes to standing up for and supporting someone you love?

And how would you cope if the one thing you always believed in was shattered in a single moment?

Author Zoe Whithall’s exploration of individuality inside the confines of a family in crisis with “The Best Kind of People” is another read that’s certain to generate all kinds of great book club conversation, if only for the many different lenses through which one can relate to or try to understand the characters that make up the Woodbury family:

  • George, the family patriarch — teacher and local hero, whose family name is one of the longest standing in Avalon Hills, long hailed for his bravery in confronting a school shooter and now under arrest, charged with the seediest of crimes and teacher can be accused of;
  • Joan, wife and mother — an ER nurse also lauded with praise from the community for her hard work, now ostracized and quietly accused of looking the other way, because of course she would know what her husband was doing, right? It’s everything she can do some days just to put one foot in front of the other as she tries to mother …
  • Sadie, daughter and student — and until her father’s arrest, one of the most popular kids at school. Whip smart, in love with her boyfriend, and whose most scandalous behavior has been limited to typical teen activities, Sadie’s now lost in a sea of confusion and finding the only way out usually involves a joint or a pill. And lastly,
  • Andrew, son and cynic — A decade older than his sister Sadie, Andrew grew up gay in a very non-gay-friendly Avalon Hills, and returns to the community that haunts his childhood to support the father that may have betrayed the family, and the mother that doesn’t want to impose on her kids.

There’s also a host of peripheral, yet very important characters — Sadie’s boyfriend, Jimmy; Jimmy’s mother, Elaine; Elaine’s boyfriend, Kevin; Sadie’s best friend, Amanda; Andrew’s partner, Jared, Joan’s sister, Clara — all of which contribute and add significant color to the story.

There is a lot to dissect in this story, maybe even more so in the time that we’re now living in. Here is a wife, a family, a community, all of which have to confront the worst about someone they’ve believed nothing but the best in. A man that selflessly rushed a gunman to save students. A loving husband. A loving father. A pillar of the community. In this day and age, though, of #metoo, we’re compelled to #believethewomen. But to do that, we are accepting guilt before innocence, which is also counter to how we are supposed to operate in our modern justice system.

There’s also the manner in which each of these characters cope the stress of being “that family.” Sadie’s own relationship with Jimmy is now colored by a new distrust in (some) men. Andrew’s own participation in an inappropriate relationship colors his perception of whether or not his father is guilty. And Joan’s struggle with a solo self is at constant odds with the harsh realities of her circumstance.

To say much more could spoil the story, but don’t worry — once you get reading, it’s too engaging to put down for long. “The Best Kind of People” is one of those immensely satisfying thoughtful reads, even up to its last, controversial, sentence. Don’t miss it.

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