Many libraries have adopted a practice of singling out a book as a community project. The Hamilton Public Library for its Hamilton Reads program has selected "The Best Kind of People" by Zoe Whitall. It covers a theme that we are becoming more aware of. Sexual offences affects not only the victim and the perpetrator, but families, friends and co-workers. Too often it catches the by standers totally off guard. A bolded statement on the back cover sums up what the reader is about to explore, "what if someone you trusted was accused of the unthinkable?"
Zoe depicts a standout character, George Woodbury who everyone admires. He is a perennial Teacher of the Year who had in one dramatic moment stopped a deranged sniper in a school. His wife Joan is in charge of the trauma unit at the local hospital. And their daughter Sadie is school student president and accomplished scholar. An older son, Andrew lives in New York and is a practicing lawyer and living in an open gay relationship with Jared. They and others are all due to be impacted.
Very early in the narration the exemplary teacher George is accused of sexual assault and attempted rape from four school girls on a trip supervised by George. He proclaims his innocence and many people support him, including the mayor. His family of course disbelieves the accusers not only verbally, but also internally. The reader is not sure, even to the end.
His guilt or innocence is never really resolved, but that is almost inconsequential. The focus of the book is on his family who suffer not only the slings and arrows from much of their community, but also self doubt.
A lot of side issues develop including a writer living with the daughter's boyfriend's mother. He had a successful first novel, but has been wrestling with writing ever since. The accused's daughter moves in to her boyfriend's house with an understanding and tolerant mother. The author having problems of motivations becomes inspired by the local "scandal" causing another level of problems and misunderstandings.
I would normally think there is some unnecessary sex, (unnecessary except for marketing) but the author is possibly demonstrating that we are all sexual creatures. There is a significant marijuana culture involving a few of the characters.
The accused in jail is looking at a long wait for a trial. In the meantime many assume guilt and the family is scorned or pitied by most. Support groups and therapy are part of the coping mechanisms and various views are presented. One that carries through the novel is that males are too often unfairly treated.
The family members all love George and admire him, but come to feel that he might be guilty and question how they should respond. A sister of Joan's brings up the idea of divorce, which is resisted, but also pondered.
Everyone is changed and generally not for the better. You the reader may not have given the situation much thought before, but some of you will get a surprise in the future and maybe this book will give you a little helpful perspective
The author, Zoe Whitall now has four novels and 3 poetry collections under her belt. Her first book, "Bottle Rocket Hearts" was acknowledged by the Globe and Mail as Best book of the year. She also received a Dayne Ogilvy grant. "The Best Kind of People was short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. as well as being a Heather's Pick at Indigo. She also published a book written for adults with low literary skills. Born and raised in Quebec she is now living in Toronto where she contributes to magazines and is working on a television show. She will attend meetings where the public can meet her in October. You can learn more about her at: http://zoewhittall.com
The Hamilton Public Library partnering with the Sexual Assault Center for Hamilton and Area with a number of workshops including, homophobia (and sexism, etc), indigenous sexual violence, allying with survivors, male sexual abuse and much more. There are still a few opportunities to get involved left and if you are interested go to: hpl.ca/HamiltonReads
To read about 2016 reading programs for both the Hamilton and Burlington libraries check this link: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/08/burlington-and-hamilton-libraries.html