The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus (Adult Fiction)

“There are essentially three types of nanny gigs.  Type A, I provide ‘couple time’ a few nights a week for people who work all day and parent most nights.  Type B, I provide ‘sanity time’ a few afternoons a week to a woman who mothers most days and nights.  Type C, I’m brought in as one of a cast of many to collectively provide twenty-four/seven ‘me time’ to a woman who neither works nor mothers.  And her days remain a mystery to us all.”  Nan would categorize Mrs. X as definitely a Type C.  In her final year at NYU, Nan is juggling school, her roommate’s obnoxious and hairy boyfriend, a self-absorbed boss, a promising romance, and a precocious four-year old by the name of Grayer.  As Mrs. X becomes increasingly more demanding—while blurring the lines between hired help and servant—Nan begins to wonder how much she can possibly bear for the sake of a single child.

Authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus have worked for over thirty New York City families and claim that their story of Mrs. X and her family is entirely fictional and not based on an actual family.  Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief and hope that’s true.  To imagine such a cold, disconnected, passive-aggressive, self-entitled woman and an equally despicable, philandering, and narcissistic man actually being parents that possess such a profound and everlasting effect on another human being is beyond the pale and frightening to think about.  As loathsome characters go, let’s not leave out our poor and hapless Nanny…Nan for short.  Although she has a genuine regard for Grayer and clearly has his welfare in mind, one cannot overlook her obvious lack of a spine, as well as dignity and self-respect.  One of my biggest pet peeves is a person—either real or imaginary—who complains constantly about his or her current circumstances, but does not a single, solitary thing to remedy it (Kathy Nicolo from House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III quickly comes to mind).  Nan hates her employer and despises her current living situation yet she refuses to quit or move.  Either she’s unimaginably loyal or really likes being miserable.  Unfortunately, when Nan is miserable, she shares her misery with us and then WE become miserable and unless you’re Job, being subjected to perpetual pain and suffering is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Nanny Diaries isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read and it does contain some self-deprecating humor, but the deplorable supporting characters and a whiny main character make this an overall annoying read resulting in an unpleasant (and yes, miserable) experience.  The only character with heart who deserves any semblance of sympathy is Grayer who represents any child who was conceived to be nothing more than an accessory worn on the arm versus a being to be held in your heart.

If you want an insight into the world of high-priced fashion designers and luxury brand names (Chanel, Prada, Judith Leiber, Lalique, Ferragamo, Armani, Gucci), then this is the book for you.  If you are looking for a heartwarming and feel-good story about nannies and the children in their care, amble down the children’s section of your local library or bookseller and check out the adventures of Mary Poppins or Nurse Matilda.  You’ll find nary a Hermès bag or Manolo Blahnik pump in these stories, but you might feel a little better about the world and those among us who have more money than manners…unless you like feeling miserable and then the Book of Job is right up your alley.

Rating: 3/5

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The King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli (J)

The King of Mulberry Street

The King of Mulberry Street

Donna Jo Napoli (Juvenile Fiction)

“There was a saying that no one starved in farmlands.  My city, Napoli, was surrounded by farmlands, yet we’d been hungry for months.”

Nine-year old Dom was illegitimate, poor, but loved.  His mother called him “mio tesoro – my treasure”, and one day she took her beloved son to the docks and stowed him away on a cargo ship headed to a place where dreams come true—America.  Before sending him away, Dom’s mother gave him one strict instruction: “Your job is to survive.”  Alone, with only a new pair of shoes in his possession, Dom struggles for daily survival in this country with its strange languages and customs, all the while searching for a way to get back home.

This is a work of fiction, but Napoli says that she was inspired by the story of her paternal grandfather who, like Dom, came to New York as a young boy.  Napoli sets her story in Manhattan in 1892 and gives us a main character who is scrappy, kind, generous, and honest.  Moreover, he manages to hold true to his moral values and religious convictions (he is a Jewish Italian) despite his dire circumstances and outside influences.  The reader can only admire and marvel at his resilience and convictions.

When recalling his life back in Napoli, Dom often remembers the proverbs his Nonna often said.  One such proverb was, “You get, you give” and Dom takes this to heart as we see him always giving throughout the book.  Whether he’s returning an act of kindness or helping another in greater need, he shows us that even the smallest act of goodwill often has the greatest impact.  Napoli gives us a beautiful story of trust, loyalty, and friendship.  As Dom begins to carve out a life for himself in America, he reminds us of the importance of being true to oneself and that family isn’t defined by bloodline or name, but by love and devotion.

Rating: 4/5

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