Minding Ben Review
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Not long ago, novels about nannies were all the rage. One of them (The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus) was even turned into a fluffy chick flick starring Scarlett Johansson. But it seems that the story of the New York Nanny isn’t over—because author Victoria Brown shares her own nanny diary in Minding Ben.

Growing up in Trinidad, Grace Caton always wanted more than an island life—so when the sixteen-year-old is given the opportunity to move to America, she jumps at the chance. Unfortunately, though, the move doesn’t go as planned. Instead of living with her cousin, going to school during the day, and babysitting in the evening, Grace is stranded in the big city, left to fend for herself.

  
 
Nearly two years later, Grace finds herself working for the Bruckners, who seem to think that Grace’s low-paying job as nanny for their son, Ben, should also include a number of other tasks—like cooking, cleaning, and running errands. With help from her friend, Kathy, and the other West Indian nannies who work in the building, Grace tries to balance work and the rest of her life while coping with the challenges that face her family back home.

Minding Ben is a partially autobiographical, partially biographical, partially fictional story about a young [illegal] immigrant who’s struggling to adjust to life in the Big Apple. Brown (and the people she knew) obviously faced a number of issues as a teenager in New York—but, in trying to relate every last one of them, she ends up losing focus.

By the book’s title, you might think that the story focuses on Grace’s time with Ben—but, in reality, Ben is just a red-headed blur of a child who remains somewhere in the background. His mother, Miriam, gets a little more attention, but she’s mostly just the typical rich New York mother—the same character found in any number of nanny novels.

Meanwhile, there are numerous other plotlines woven in and out of the story. There’s Sylvia, a fellow immigrant from Trinidad who lets Grace live with her and her family in a run-down apartment in Brooklyn—only to take full advantage of Grace’s kindness and desperation, just as the Bruckners do. There’s Grace’s friend, Kathy, who’s in an unhealthy relationship with a Jamaican criminal. There are friendships and relationships and family matters and immigration possibilities that all force their way in (many of which could have been left out). And there’s just so much going on that Minding Ben feels like a novel full of subplots—but with no real story.

Grace is a likeable protagonist—and her West Indian background gives the same old nanny novel a new twist. She isn’t just another tired college kid who’s trying to make a living—she’s a penniless young immigrant who’s struggling to survive. Many of the other characters are interesting, too—like Sylvia and Miriam—but none of them feel particularly solid. They’re more like sketches of deeper, more developed characters. And just when you start getting to know one of them, the focus shifts back to a different story.

Minding Ben had the potential to be an eye-opening novel about life for immigrant nannies in New York. Instead, it simply scratches the surface of too many stories—and too many characters—so, in the end, none of them stand out.

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