“His Favorites by Kate Walbert

Genre:          General Fiction   His Favorites
Publisher:    Scribner
Pub. Date:   Aug. 14, 2018

“His Favorites” is a slice of life story about the wealthy with two different plotlines connected by the female protagonist, Jo.  It is written by the acclaimed American author Kate Walbert.  Similar to Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, “Prep,” this tale is a powerful coming of age story that spotlights (no matter how rich you are) the vulnerability and powerlessness of female girls.  Unlike “Prep,” there is no laughter in “Favorites.”  This is a sad story which might have been easier to read with a little tension-cutting humor.  Walbert is also writing on the same female issues that follow girls into womanhood.  The story is narrated by an adult Jo, who is recounting painful memories.  In the 1970s, she was twice traumatized.

At fifteen, she and her two childhood best friends go on a drunken joyride in a golf cart. Jo is the driver.   The ride ends tragically when the golf cart flips over.  Two girls are left laughing and the third girl is left dead.  The author asks the reader to question if the tragedy is a type of privileged entrapment.  The girls are usually unsupervised.  They live on the grounds of a country club.   They know where the golf cart keys are kept.  Did Jo really do anything that most teens in her position wouldn’t have done?   I don’t think so, do you?  Nevertheless, after the death of her friend, Jo becomes the neighborhood’s version of a human pariah—Avoided.  Detested.  The dead girl’s mother, who is like a second mother to Jo, spits on her.  Her parents pretty much desert her.  Scared, alone, grieving her friend and brimming with endless guilt, she is sent off to a boarding school in New England.  I felt real anger at how heartlessly Jo is punished for being a teenager.

The second plotline begins at the boarding school.  It feels as if Jo is once again set up by affluent adults.   Isolated from family and friends she is easy pickings to become the next favorite (there are/were many) of her 34-year-old male teacher.  She has an unwanted sexual relationship with him.  The author now goes into society’s sexual unfavorable biases towards females of all ages.  She nails why Jo or the other girls didn’t say anything to the school’s authorities about their teacher’s sexual misconduct.  Who would believe them?  He is a powerful man and an academic award-winning teacher.  Who would believe them?  Everyone knows that girls and women have embellished imaginations. Who would believe them?  None of the girls actually said no.  They were so manipulated into the relationship that they themselves never realized that they were abused.  Of course, they were but, The Me Too Movement is decades away.  Hopefully, the days of powerful men getting off scot-free are nearing an end.

The reader never learns how adult Jo coped living with so much undeserved shame.  Was the rest of her life a wipeout like another one of the professor’s favorites?   Adult Jo has an unexpected encounter with her.  The other favorite now suffers from a cocaine problem.  (Possible Spoiler) After this meeting, the author teases the reader with the idea, ‘that the power might finally be in Jo’s hands.’  But, we really don’t know.   I have mixed feelings on the novel’s conclusion.  I think I would have preferred going back full circle to the story’s beginning with an explained ending.  But then again, Walbert’s ending gives me food for thought.  In a weird way, it is similar to the last scene in the last episode of another fictional wealthy family—“The Sopranos.”  Does, Tony live or doesn’t he?  We are left with the same question regarding Jo.

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I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Best Kind of People” by Zoe Whittall

Publication Date:   Sept., 19, 2017The Best Kind of People

Publishers          :   Random House

Genre:                :   General Adult Fiction

Mini Review

Zoe Whittall is a respected poet and novelist. She is considered one of the top Canadian writers, winner of the 2008 Dayne Ogilvie Prize. So why did I dislike this novel so much?

The novel asks the question, what would you do if you found out that your husband or father was not the beloved person you thought? In this story, the husband/father was charged with sexual misconduct against several teenage girls at the high school where he taught and annually won the best teacher award and where his daughter was an honors student. The author certainly took on an ambitious topic, and I have learned it took her six years to write this novel, but after the first few chapters, I was still waiting to find the meat on the bones.

The husband/father’s adult gay son was once bullied, as a student, at the same school, yet somehow it was never mentioned why this wonderful dad and teacher had not even a hint of an idea that this was happening to his son. The wife/mother had my pity at first, then her unhappiness was described over and over again until it became ad nauseam. I wanted to slap her, wake her up. The teenage daughter had some depth, simply because she was a teenager self-medicating away her pain and confusion. She went from being a popular girl to an outcast. The father she adored may or may not have been who she believed he was. We never really became acquainted with the accused, his character was never developed. I found this to be a flaw in the writing. And don’t even start me on the ending, which you will simply have to read for yourself to make your own judgments. I’m simply not sure what all the hype was about.

I received this novel at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

 

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