Thursday, July 7, 2011

Minding Ben by Victoria Brown

Minding Ben by Victoria Brown
At 16 Grace, makes the trip alone from her home in Trinidad to NYC. Grace finds herself alone when her aunt doesn't show at the airport. All of that happens in the prologue. When the story really gets going, its 1991 Grace is 18yrs old, living with Sylvia, a fellow Trinidadian she meet at carnival. Grace is helping take care of Sylvia's three kids. Plus the brother, six people staying in Sylvia's rundown Brooklyn apartment. Grace is trying to find work as a nanny. Not being a U.S citizen, is making the job search very difficult.

Grace finally gets a job with the Bruckner's, a wealthy Manhattan couple. She's hired as a weekly live in for their four year old son Ben. Grace is being paid $200 a week and knows its less then average for the area, but she needs the money. The Bruckner's take advantage. The wife is always finding more tedious work for Grace.

Brown does an excellent job of showing this very unbalanced employee and employer relationship. At one point the Bruckner's even hint at being Grace's sponsor to become citizen. Making it more difficult for Grace to leave a bad situation.

Grace takes Ben out to the park and sits with some of the other Caribbean nannies. The author incorporates many Island dialects, which I absolutely loved. It was easy to visualize these women sitting around a park bench, having causal conversations to pass the time.

One of the great things about this story, every interaction served a purpose. When Grace first talks to the Bruckner's doorman it's obvious he feel above the nannies. Brown paints a full picture of Grace, with the story lines running together smoothly. I loved Grace's best friend Kathy. She is also from Trinidad and has fully embraced Jamaican style.

"Kathy shook her head. She was one of those Trinidadians of indeterminate race, a real callaloo. Her chabine hair came almost to her waist in a ponytail looked just like a real pony's tail. She was red-skinned, short and plump - or as she liked to call herself, slim thick-. Karen had taken to Jamaicans. She left Trinidad exactly three months before I did and dropped her h's as frequently as she remembered to pronounce them. Not only had she picked up the accent but she had picked up the style. Now she sported a purple sweater and tight blue jeans. Simple enough but Kathy had only last Saturday gone to the Empire Boulevard post office to pick up her very own BeDazzler. Brooklyn Jamaicans were crazy about the potential for transformation locked away in every bite of the BeDazzler. Three braclets of rhinestones sparkled on Kath's cuffs and a line of jewels dotted up each arm. From the shoulders the stones ringed the neck of her sweater in three rows to mimic the cuff effect. Kathy had repeated the triple pattern on the hem of her jeans and had studded up its outer side seams to the front pockets. This dazzling effect was completed with purple, spiny stars on both back pockets and one final oversize rinestone centered on her back loop. All in all I estimated about two and a half pounds of gems.

When the author broke out the BeDazzler, couldn't help but like the story just a little more. Minding Ben is firmly set in NYC early 90's more so Brooklyn. It was fun for me to be reminded of past trends, like Karl Kani and being able to picture much of the world Grace was living in.

Brown has created a great character in Grace. I loved her voice. Minding Ben was an easy novel to fall into. I really enjoyed it.

An excerpt


tanita davis said...

This sounds fab. Just was listening to a piece on American Public Media about a middle-aged nanny from Barbados -- and the reality of some of the situations those women work in -- I love that the situation has already been made into a book with a young voice speaking out. Great review.

Doret said...

Tanita, thanks, I was thinking about reposting at my blog. Minding Ben has some serious YA crossover appeal.