Review: Vibhuti Jain’s debut novel Our Best Intentions

Out Best Intentions by Vibhuti Jain. Image courtesy Tandem Literary
Out Best Intentions by Vibhuti Jain. Image courtesy Tandem Literary /

Author Vibhuti Jain’s debut novelOur Best Intentions, tells a tragic tale of what happens when you make a mistake you can’t undo. Especially when others already think you’re trouble.

The story folds out from one fateful event — the stabbing of high school student Henry on the campus football field. The further the book progresses, the more we learn about the events leading up to and following the attack. Who did it? Why? And why is the town’s richest family — Henry’s parents — trying so hard to cover up the truth?

Throughout the novel, Jain offers viewpoints not from Henry, but from others involved in the incident — Angela, who found Henry on the field, as well as her father, who would do anything to protect her. Chris, who allegedly saw the attack. Didi, the alleged attacker’s cousin, and the school principal who wanted desperately to see Didi’s cousin Chiara succeed.

These alternating perspectives are essential to magnifying the story’s depth. This book isn’t about a boy attacked on a football field. It’s about a girl watching lies spread out of control. It’s about a boy whose biggest mistake will cost him nothing because he’s white and his best friend is rich. It’s about the ways privilege makes people feel powerful enough to manipulate those without it.

It’s about how some people will never reach their full potential for no reason other than they’re Black, or they come from less-than-ideal circumstances. Or because even those who genuinely want to help them don’t have the power to do that without facing repercussions.

The book is a raw, unapologetic look at the way marginalized groups are mistreated and misjudged — and the lengths rich white people will go to “protect” themselves from presumed threats to their well-being. Angela’s feelings of helplessness seeing another person of color under a completely different kind of attack and knowing her voice won’t change the narrative is the story of so many people trapped beneath the weight of others’ prejudice. Mabel, having faced her own challenges, tries to stand up for Chiara to no avail because the odds are already stacked against both of them.

Jain’s story does not sugar-coat reality. It takes time to build emotional foundations for each character — even Chris, who we’re supposed to hate despite his backstory. We come to understand why each character reacts the way they do to the incident. We see how everyone involved seemed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that makes the book’s ending that much more impactful.

As a white person, this book really made me hate white people (and I hope it has the same effect on others like me who read it). When you view this story, you see people for who they really are, and the ones most in the wrong are the ones who think they’ve won in the end.

No one wins when someone ends up dead.

Our Best Intentions is available now wherever books are sold.

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