MINDING BEN by Victoria Brown

Book Quote:

“The only thing we want is for you to put all the receipts from the supermarket, the pizza place if you take Ben for pie, whatever, in here. At the end of the week before you get paid, Mr. Bruckner or I will tally them up. If the total is a few cents off, fine, but generally if it’s more than a dollar you’re responsible for making it up. I think because it’s your first day you should take Ben to Gino’s for a slice. It’ll help you guys bond. Let’s see, what else?”

She stood with one leg crossed behind the other thinking about anything she might have forgot.

Book Review:

Review by Katherine Petersen  (MAY 2, 2011)

Minding Ben is a combination coming-of-age story and mainstream fiction novel. At 16, Grace Caton left her small village in Trinidad to live the American Dream in New York City. But nothing went according to plan once she set foot in the States. The cousin she expected to meet her and with whom she was to live never showed up, so Grace had to fend for herself from day one, and she learns that life in the big city is difficult, complicated, unfair and lonely. She gets a break when Sylvia, an overweight immigrant who lives in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn offers her a place to stay, but that place to live comes with the strings of caring for kids, buying her cigarettes and lending her money.

Grace finally lands a job as a nanny to a family in Manhattan, but she’s never really comfortable with them and they harbor their own secrets. An upper middle upper-class couple, Sol Bruckner has some slimy tendencies, and Miriam takes pleasure in bossing Grace around and wants her to take nude photos as her pregnancy advances. But grace loves four-year-old Ben, so she puts up with extra demands, excessive chores and verbal manipulation and other slights. Grace also must contend with the off-and-on friendliness of neighborhood nannies who take their charges to the same park to gossip about who’s hired who and who’s sleeping with their bosses. Grace’s one friend in the mix is Kathy, a wannabe Jamaican who thinks every outfit can be jazzed up with a Bedazzler.

Born in Trinidad herself, Victoria Brown appears to write from her own experiences. Although the storyline is interesting, her characters unfortunately remain two-dimensional and don’t have the depth to pull off the story Brown has in mind. The best-developed character is Sylvia with her big personality so easy to anger and forgive, to give advice when it’s wanted and not and whom you have sympathy for even as she takes shameless advantage of Grace. One can sympathize with her inner turmoil—to go back to Trinidad to care for her ailing father or to stay a virtual slave in New York–but she doesn’t bounce off the page as one wants her to.

It’s interesting to learn about Trinidad and how many of the nannies are prejudiced even against others in their own community. Brown gives a realistic picture of the loneliness and frustration of life in New York without papers and money. She also addresses how often it seems the nannies care more for the children than their parents.

The story stops and starts and has some slow points with the ending wrapping up very quickly while still leaving threads hanging. Overall, it’s an interesting story, but I think Brown’s memoir might have been the stronger story rather than a fictionalized version.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 17 readers
PUBLISHER: Voice (April 12, 2011)
REVIEWER: Katherine Petersen
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Victoria Brown
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Other “nanny” stories:

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson


May 2, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Posted in: Caribbean, Coming-of-Age, Contemporary, Debut Novel, New York City

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