Minding Ben

Minding Ben

3.4 7
by Victoria Brown
     
 

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At sixteen, Grace Caton boards her first airplane, leaving behind the tropical papaya and guava trees of her small village in Trinidad for another island, this one with tall buildings, graceful parks, and all the books she can read. At least that's what Grace imagines. But from the moment she touches down, nothing goes as planned. The aunt who had promised to watch

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Overview

At sixteen, Grace Caton boards her first airplane, leaving behind the tropical papaya and guava trees of her small village in Trinidad for another island, this one with tall buildings, graceful parks, and all the books she can read. At least that's what Grace imagines. But from the moment she touches down, nothing goes as planned. The aunt who had promised to watch over her disappears, and Grace finds herself on her own.

Grace stumbles into the colorful world of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, having been taken in hand, sort of, by a fellow islander, Sylvia. Here, she's surrounded by other immigrants also finding their way in America. From her Orthodox Jewish landlord, Jacob, to her wannabe Jamaican friend, Kathy, who feels that every outfit can be improved with a Bedazzler and a low-cut top, there's much to learn about her new city.

Most challenging of all is figuring out her new employers, the Bruckners, an upper-middle-class family in Manhattan. The job is strange—Grace's duties range from taking daily nude photos of her pregnant boss (a shock to her, since she's never even seen her own mother naked) to dressing in a traditional maid's costume to serve Passover seder. But Grace loves four-year-old Ben, and she's intrigued by the alternately friendly and scheming nannies who spend their days in Union Square Park, and by their constant gossip about who's hired, who's fired, and who, scandalously, married her boss.

As the seasons change, Grace discovers that the Bruckners have surprising secrets of their own, and her life becomes increasingly complicated and confusing. But opportunities appear in the most unexpected places, and Grace realizes that she's living in a city—and a world—where anything is possible.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the lead-up to the racially turbulent summer of 1991 and Brooklyn's Crown Heights riots, this troubling and touching novel chronicles 18-year-old Grace's move from Trinidad to New York City in search of work and new opportunities, but her Sunday-through-Friday life as a live-in nanny is all the more stark when set against her weekends with a dirt-poor family that needs her just as surely as her demanding employers. Cinderella's wicked step-family have nothing on married-into-money Miriam, who runs Grace ragged with selfish demands, or haggard, penny-pinching Sylvia, stuck in a wretched apartment back in Brooklyn with three kids and unemployed baby-daddy Bo. Everyone shares desperation: Grace for a green card, Sylvia for a future, Miriam for acceptance. The language of the Caribbean sings through the pages, and if the adults misbehave and mismanage their lives, your heart breaks for the kids—Miriam's son, Ben, and the other Manhattan kids watched over by hired help who have their own codes of behavior in the parks and playgrounds. A too-tidy ending wraps it all up with a bow of hope, but the striving and sadness that precedes it is what sticks. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In the tradition of The Nanny Diaries, this debut novel features an evil Manhattan mommy and a sweet little boy but mixes in a lot of ethnic flair. Sixteen-year-old Grace leaves Trinidad to come to New York City and seek her fortune. Her father is ill, and she hopes to make enough to send money home. After a difficult start, she gets a job with the wealthy Bruckners, minding their adorable son, Ben. Both parents treat Grace as not only nanny but maid and servant. She picks up the mother's dirty underwear, does dishes daily, and is traipsed to the in-laws' house to serve at a party. What makes this title stand out from other nanny fiction is the author's focus on Grace's island culture and the West Indian nannies and friends with whom Grace spends time. Their cultural home away from home can be positive in its support system but also has its fair share of stressful relationships. VERDICT Revealing New York's melting pot at its most complicated, this interesting first novel is told from the perspective of someone who has been there and done that. Brown drew from her personal experience as a young immigrant nanny, and her story is fascinating, tender, and heartbreaking. [Selected by Voice as its Spring 2011 Publisher's Pick; Brown is profiled in "Spring Editors' Picks," LJ 2/15/11.—Ed.]—Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC
Kirkus Reviews - Kikus Reviews

Trinidad teen journeys to America in 1989, only to find herself trapped in thankless domestic drudgery.

At 16, Grace leaves behind her small island village, her crippled diabetic father, her devout born-again mother and her younger sister. Upon arrival in New York City, the cousin who had promised to meet her flight doesn't show. She ends up in Brooklyn staying with Sylvia, a matronly woman she met at a Crown Heights street fair. But Sylvia's apartment is crowded and toxic: Lead paint peels off the walls, and one of Sylvia's three children is displaying neurological symptoms. Grace finds a nanny position in a Manhattan high rise with a Jewish couple, Miriam and Sol Bruckner. Her duties extend far beyond minding 3-year-old Ben Bruckner. In return for a bed near the washing machine and $200 a week (often less), she's expected to do all the household chores, cooking and laundry. Sol is passive-aggressive and may have had an affair with a previous West Indian employee, and Miriam alternately praises Grace and berates her for trivial infractions of arbitrary rules. The Bruckners agree to sponsor Grace for a green card but evade Grace's questions about the progress of her application. Grace finds solace among her fellow nannies, who, with their charges, convene daily at the playground in Union Square. Her friend Kathy, also from Trinidad, but from a wealthier family, introduces Grace to the nightclub scene. Dave, the gay man who occupies the penthouse of the Bruckners' building, seeks her help with his indoor tropical garden and becomes, besides Kathy, her sole trusted confidant. By age 18, Grace has learned dispiriting truths about almost everyone in her new home.

Despite lyrical prose, the narrative does not develop so much as unravel according to vagaries of chance. The Bruckners' casual cruelty beggars belief, but Grace'sinabilityto fight back is even more implausible. However, Brown is a new voice with much to offer.

Kirkus Reviews

Trinidad teen journeys to America in 1989, only to find herself trapped in thankless domestic drudgery.

At 16, Grace leaves behind her small island village, her crippled diabetic father, her devout born-again mother and her younger sister. Upon arrival in New York City, the cousin who had promised to meet her flight doesn't show. She ends up in Brooklyn staying with Sylvia, a matronly woman she met at a Crown Heights street fair. But Sylvia's apartment is crowded and toxic: Lead paint peels off the walls, and one of Sylvia's three children is displaying neurological symptoms. Grace finds a nanny position in a Manhattan high rise with a Jewish couple, Miriam and Sol Bruckner. Her duties extend far beyond minding 3-year-old Ben Bruckner. In return for a bed near the washing machine and $200 a week (often less), she's expected to do all the household chores, cooking and laundry. Sol is passive-aggressive and may have had an affair with a previous West Indian employee, and Miriam alternately praises Grace and berates her for trivial infractions of arbitrary rules. The Bruckners agree to sponsor Grace for a green card but evade Grace's questions about the progress of her application. Grace finds solace among her fellow nannies, who, with their charges, convene daily at the playground in Union Square. Her friend Kathy, also from Trinidad, but from a wealthier family, introduces Grace to the nightclub scene. Dave, the gay man who occupies the penthouse of the Bruckners' building, seeks her help with his indoor tropical garden and becomes, besides Kathy, her sole trusted confidant. By age 18, Grace has learned dispiriting truths about almost everyone in her new home.

Despite lyrical prose, the narrative does not develop so much as unravel according to vagaries of chance. The Bruckners' casual cruelty beggars belief, but Grace'sinabilityto fight back is even more implausible. However, Brown is a new voice with much to offer.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781401341510
Publisher:
Hyperion
Publication date:
04/12/2011
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
9.36(w) x 6.34(h) x 1.06(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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