I made a mistake of reading this book just before I went to the USA as an au-pair. I guess I wanted to get to know what the parents in the States are like, and get some ideas of games I can play with the kids. After reading this, from the “nanny-to-be” point of view, I got more scared than I already was. Fortunately, my host family was nothing like the one described in the book; they were great and respected me and my free time. The book, however, is a nice treat; I recently read it again and was as appalled as when I read it for the first time. And at the same time, I had as much fun.
It’s about Nanny, who works as a nanny – I’m guessing pun intended. She is also a student, so she must work out her hours at the university with those taking care of a child. She gets employed by a typical New York couple with a typical 4-year-old son. The child is merry, nice and smart, but in my opinion he’s not especially unique – again, I’m guessing this was done on purpose. The girls who wrote that novel used to work as nannies in New York and they combined their experiences into this one story.
The married couple, the child’s parents, is called Mrs and Mr X, which probably means that it could have been any couple in Manhattan. First we have a great description of the typical job interview, where the child doesn’t have much to say, and is almost invisible. There is a great description of an apartment of upper-classes in Manhattan; apartments that don’t show a single sign that a child lives there. Then the story starts. Nanny has been chosen and begins work for the Xs. First, it’s all great, Mrs X promises things like flexibility and respect for Nanny’s studies. Is always smiling and cheerful. Shows positive attitude and willingness to make friends with her new employee. Tries too hard to make it sound like all she’s doing is for her son’s good.
Under the surface there is much more. There is need to be loved and noticed by her husband. Also, the desire to fit in, to keep up with all the things living in Manhattan requires from a respected wife of a wealthy businessman. The complete inability to see what really matters for her son, and the disrespect for her employees, including the nanny. Then, there’s the husband. The elusive figure, almost non-existent in his family’s life. We have the son craving for his parents’ attention, getting attached to yet another caretaker, who is going to eventually leave him, but who spends more time with him than any of his parents. And the thing that scares me more, because it’s closer to the truth – the “rat race” that begins as early as the age of four; applying for the right kindergarden, sending the kid for a lot of additional classes like foreign languages, etc.
There isn’t much as far as character development is concerned, though. However, I’m not sure that was the point, though. From how I see this, it was just to be about being a Nanny in New York and I sort of suspected nothing would change dramatically. It still managed to annoy me a few times, I mean the narrator Nanny had no back-bone and would always complain about her employer to everyone but the employer herself. Her mom would always tell her to quit, but she wouldn’t – for the sake of the child. I get it, but she knew she would have to eventually leave him, anyway, so better sooner than later, right?
I know that it’s easy to say this from perspective, but it’s not that easy when it’s about you. Leaving the money issue aside – though it WAS an issue – it’s not that easy to just walk away from a child who shows deep attachment to you and to whom you are attached and just want to help make him feel a little better. It’s easy to forget you’re not the parent, and you’re just a temporary person in the child’s life. As for having a back bone, it may have irritated me a little that she didn’t have any, but who am I to judge? I usually don’t come off as a strong person and often just give up and don’t even try to fight for my rights.
All in all, if you’re looking for something with an intriguing plot, you won’t find it here. If you want sophisticated characters with a lot of change that they undergo as the book progresses, it’s also not for you. However, should you be wanting a book that may not be the highest literary standards, but is a fast read, that is the book to go. It’s funny and touching and for me it serves the purpose of describing and observing without any real attempt of change, since change seems simply not possible.