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"I'd yet to feel lucky.",
This review is from: Minding Ben (Hardcover)
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So says the protagonist of Victoria Brown's first novel "Minding Ben," an expose (of sorts) of the world of New York nannies. The heroine, Grace, arrives in America from Trinidad at age 16, has her plans for a job and home upturned, and eventually, is forced to take a job as a nanny. "Everyone reads in the interviews," her employer-to-be Miriam Bruckner tells her, handing Grace a book, since apparently Grace's predecessor couldn't. Also the predecessor apparently took the child on public transportation (if you can imagine), and there's something murky in the way no one will give Grace the complete story. From there, things only get more uncomfortable, if not downright humiliating at times, but Grace, who needs a green card to stay, does finally find a way to escape.
In books where the progatonist is a young native American who's being exploited in a first job, a typical problem is that he/she has a love interest who wants more commitment and that they have student loans. Here, the narrator stays part time with a family, who lives in a dilapidated apartment with lead paint that may be causing the toddler's brain damage. Not to mention that she can't even get a few nights off a week to further her education. So while both these characters have valid problems, "Minding Ben" is a much darker "Nanny Diaries" or "The Devil Wears Prada." It can be hard to watch any protagonist suffer abuse and exploitation, but when the character literally doesn't have a choice in the matter, it's even more heart-wrenching.
Two random things I admired. One, even though Grace is described as incredibly attractive several times in the book, the reader isn't beat over the head with it every few pages, the way so many writers do when they've fallen for their gorgeous protagonist. Too many novels have endless descriptions of their hero's handsomeness, which only annoys me as a reader.
Second, the "gay best friend," who often appears in these kinds of novels solely to help the heroine triumph (I.e. avoid fashion disasters and grow a spine) is not a stereotype but a sympathetic character. In fact, I wished the author had developed his storyline even further.
Only one quibble: the solution to Grace's dilemma seemed to drop out of the sky from nowhere. If it was foreshadowed, I missed it. However, I got the impression that most of this book was directly taken from the author's experiences, and so perhaps this is based on fact, too.