“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Victoria Brown / Hardcover / 352 Pages / Book is published 2011-04-12 by Hyperion Books „
Grace is a 16 year old who has spent her whole life in Trinidad, and when a life in New York beckons, she soon finds herself having to grow up very quickly when the relative who has promised her work fails to deliver, and Grace has to fend for herself in the strange world that is that of a poorly paid, official paperless Nanny. "Minding Ben" tells the story of Grace, from her viewpoint, in what is an interesting and revealing story about two diverse cultures with which I am not really familiar, as the Caribbean meets the Big Apple.
As soon as I started reading this book I did find that I could empathise and relate to Grace really quickly, she was a likeable character and, at times, reading about her struggle in this book was almost painful. This is no jolly story about looking after spoilt children, rather the novel finds Grace living at weekends with Sylvia, a fellow immigrant in whose house Grace has been lodging in return for minding her children and working during the week for the Bruckners and looking after their son Ben.
I found the dialogue and relationships between the characters from Trinidad and of Jamaican origin more interesting and believable than those between Grace and her employers, the Bruckners, the unpleasant Miriam and equally unlikeable Sol. The author is a mother and also came to the USA to work as a nanny so this is a world she clearly knows well, so I was expecting to find out more about Ben, but I never really felt her interactions with him in the book were that compelling or interesting. Apart from the fact that he liked playing in the sandpit and asked for his previous Nanny a lot, he didn't appear to have much substance. Though I did feel Grace's despair and her frustration at her situation at moments in the book, perhaps as the Bruckners were rather two dimensional characters I didn't buy as fully into the story as I could have, and though I did want to know what would happen to her, this book did leave me wanting a bit more.
Nonetheless I did enjoy reading this book and it certainly made me think. I have no doubt that there is a whole section of society in whatever large city you are who still employ staff and think that they can show them little regard, pay them little and dictate every aspect of their life, like the Bruckners did Grace. In this book she finds herself being fined off her salary if the receipts for things she has been told to buy and the change jar don't tally, having the most unreasonable requests made of her and being treated more like a maid than a nanny. Having worked as an au pair in Paris myself, albeit with nicer employers, I did find the way Sylvia and her fellow Nannies were just handed over their employers' children and left to get on with it a bit like my experience, and hence I did buy into Grace's world and care what happened to her. Despite the fact that, as I have already said, I did feel a little unconvinced by Ben and the Bruckners, Grace as a character, was what kept me reading until the last page. She had great dignity, intelligence and kept her integrity and identity, remaining true to herself through thick and thin. Though the ending was a little bit too convenient and contrived for my liking, I did wonder at the end how her story would have gone on.
For me this book is worth a read, as it is well written and a little bit different to other books I have read of late. It will be interesting to see how this author develops as a writer. I feel that she is able to give insight into a world and a life that is of great interest and in this particular book the story was good, but it had the potential to be great, and didn't quite hit the mark for me.
Thanks to the publishers for providing me with this book in e-form