I have read (and enjoyed!) most of Zoe Whittall’s novels, but I almost passed on The Best Kind of People, because the premise of ‘school teacher accused of sexual abuse of students’ is one I’ve seen more than enough of for a lifetime. But, the book was short-listed for the Giller Prize this year, and I decided to give it a shot.
I am so glad I did!
Whittall’s treatment of this subject matter, which is simultaneously extremely sensitive and (in my opinion) massively overused in all forms of fiction, is nothing short of ground-breaking. At no point does the novel give in to the prurience so often present in these kinds of stories – we never hear any details about the sexual misconduct in question. Instead, The Best Kind of People centres itself around the experiences of the family of the man accused, in particular his sixteen-year-old daughter Sadie (who is only a few years older than the girls her father is accused of assaulting) and his wife Joan, neither of whom can reconcile the accusations with the man they know and love.
Ultimately, the novel is a masterful examination of the ways in which our society responds to these kinds of crimes, particularly when the perpetrator is respected person with a great deal of privilege. Sadie and Joan find themselves variously vilified, ostracized and supported by various community members – including support from people they wish would stay well away from them – all while desperately trying to sort through their own feelings, and what it will mean for their lives if their respective father and husband is indeed guilty.
This is a deeply emotional novel, full of well-drawn, complex and realistic characters. Well worth a read!
If you’ve already read and loved The Best Kind of People, check out some other great books from Canadian women, or take a look at other Scotiabank Giller Prize nominees and winners.
I’m going to be honest: I am totally enamoured of Kyo Maclear. And if you’re into picture books that are just as much fun for adults to read as for children, then you’re going to be enamoured of her too.
The Good Little Book, illustrated by Marion Arbona, is, as always with the illustrators Maclear partners up with, beautifully drawn and visually engaging*. That’s not all, though; while I will concede that the story is not actually all that exciting – it talks about a boy who got into trouble and sits out his punishment in the library, where he discovers The Good Little Book – the details are what really charm the reader. The first thought I had while reading it was “THIS IS SO META!” (this is a good thing.), because as I’ve mentioned above, The Good Little Book features in The Good Little Book! Which, I think, is pretty cool. (Not that it’s the first book to do so, nor do I believe it will be the last. See, for example, Jenni Desmond’s The Blue Whale). And there’s more! By putting the book itself into the contents of the book, Maclear actually intimates that we, the reader, are part of the story: we are an extension of the image of all the readers who have ever read, who are reading, and who will ever read The Good Little Book.
Vampires nowadays, attractive as they are and as much glitter as they disperse in the sunlight – let’s face it – don’t hold a torch to the good ol’ vampire of yore. They have become so diluted from, say, Dracula, that to compare the two might actually be a misstep altogether, like comparing apples to oranges. Just to drive my point home (through the heart, with a stake), here are the characteristics Bram Stoker bestows upon his Count in Dracula: he’s a “tall, old man” sporting a white moustache; he has a thin nose and domed forehead, bushy eyebrows and likewise bushy hair; topped off with ruddy lips, protruding sharp teeth, and a “broad and strong” chin. Suffice it to say he is decidedly not the stuff of most people’s dreams. This disparity is what McDoniel takes as his starting point before leaping off into the ether with it. Continue reading