Minding Ben by Victoria Brown

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Title: Minding Ben
Author: Victoria Brown
Genre: Contemporary literature, women's fiction
Publisher: Hyperion, 2011
Source: Received from NetGalley

Grace is desperate to leave her home in Trinidad to experience a freer, better life in New York. However, once she starts working as a nanny for Miriam and Sol Bruckner, she begins to wonder if her American dream is really something worth pursuing. Spending the weekdays working like a slave for the Bruckners and the weekends living in a hazardous, dirty home, Grace searches for what she is really wanting in America and if there is a way to achieve it.

I thought the premise of this book was really interesting. It has been compared to The Nanny Diaries, but I'm not familiar with that story, and I've never read anything that shows the life of a nanny or the concerns that they have. I also enjoyed reading about the different West Indian cultures. I worked with 5 or 6 Haitians for a while when I was working at the home for disabled people, and it was always interesting to talk to them about their previous home. This book didn't really talk about Haitians - mostly Trinidadians, Jamaicans, and a few Bajans, but I still felt like I was learning a little more about the culture.

Granted, at times the portrayal of the different cultures seemed a bit stereotypical. Most of the white people we encounter in the novel are prejudiced against the West Indians, making fun of them or considering them to be less intelligent or desperate. For example, when Miriam is interviewing Grace for the job, she is surprised that she can read well and speak articulately. But conversely, most of the West Indians in the novel aren't educated. They are living in squalor, many of them making money in illegal dealings or trying to arrange marriages with citizens so they can continue living there. Grace is the only character that seems eager to rise above the circumstances and that talks in an articulate voice. The contrast just seems too stark. There must be other articulate West Indians, and there must be nice white people. Grace just seems too good in a world that is too bad.

However, moving past the stereotypes, the story is interesting and mildly entertaining. I have a perverse pleasure in reading about really nasty characters - when a villain is well written, I love it. Miriam is a perfect villain for this kind of story. She makes Grace do some very interesting things that I'm sure don't fall under the normal job description for a nanny, and some of the things she says are priceless in a "she did what?" kind of way. There were also little details that were very funny. I loved Kath and her Bedazzler. I'm not sure if this is true now, but apparently New York-dwelling Jamaicans Bedazzled everything they owned in the 80s. My grandma and I have also bedazzled a thing or two, including a pair of Converse I bought in high school.

Overall, however, this book was just average for me - the type of book that I could have read on the beach or an airplane. It was entertaining, but I think it could have gone much deeper. Still, an interesting view into a culture I'm not very familiar with.

Readability - Fine.
Plot: 3
Characters: 2.5
Writing: 3
Personal response: 2.5
Overall: 2.75


  1. Great review! I won another book from the publisher and they included Minding Ben in the package as a surprise. I hadn't heard of it, so it's good to read a thorough review. From the sounds of it, I'll think I'll save it for my next beach vacation.

  2. This book sounds interesting. I didn't love The Nanny Diaries, but I think it might be more engaging from the point of view of a West Indian nanny!


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