One hot August in the well-to-do community of Kitchewan, New York, an act of violence tarnishes the veneer of security and shine. The insular suburb may have “great schools, upscale people, and gorgeous river views,” but just like a body of water, the surface never tells the whole story.
Indian American immigrant Babur Singh and his daughter, Angie (formerly Anjali), are making their way in a very white world, neither of them knowing the rules that others seem to intrinsically grasp. In a traumatizing instant, Angie is thrust into the very spotlight she wants to avoid: Walking home from swim practice, she finds handsome, popular jock Henry McCleary stabbed on the football field. Biases reveal themselves as public opinion solidifies in predictable ways, and soon all fingers point to Chiara Thompkins, one of the only Black students at Kitchewan High School, who has disappeared.
From this bang of an opener, Vibhuti Jain’s debut novel is marked by crime and prejudice, building to a story of human nature at its most vulnerable and manipulative. The lives of Chiara, Henry, Angie, Babur and Didi (Chiara’s cousin) grow more and more entwined in the aftermath of the incident, which is not as straightforward as everyone believes. The characters’ tumultuous minds are captured in arresting detail, although the chapters that incorporate multiple perspectives and points in time are a bit muddled. Still, Jain excels at developing multidimensional characters and an atmosphere of intrigue while also calling attention to the complicated web of class and race dynamics.
Everyone in Our Best Intentions carries a secret shame: something they want to conceal or protect, even as they also wish to be free of it. Angie especially is looking for absolution in the midst of all her tangled teenage emotions about what really happened between Henry and Chiara. Babur is looking for the light in his daughter’s eyes and the laugh in her voice to return. And although the authorities may be looking for Chiara, not enough people in Kitchewan are searching for the truth. But eventually the truth will out, as it always does.