I’m not a big fan of “Meh”. Not the word, and certainly not the emotion associated with it. To me “meh” is a lazy, mediocre word for a lazy, mediocre feeling about something.
So, it is with great sadness that I proclaim Minding Ben by Victoria Brown to be, well, meh.
I was excited when I first read about this book, and thrilled when it showed up in the mail. It was sold as sort of a Nanny Diaries, but with culture. It would delve into the world, not just of Manhattan nannies, but into West Indian/Caribbean nannies.
The title told me I was going to learn about the relationship between a nanny and a boy, Ben. I looked forward to seeing the cultural differences spelled out there – how Manhattanites treat their children must be very different from the way a West Indian girl is raised. Then there would be food, and language, and… the possibilities seemed endless.
Unfortunately, for me, the book fell flat.
I wanted, desperately, to care about Grace Caton and her journey through New York. Unfortunately all of her troubles were superficial and easily solved. Someone always stepped in to save her before she had to make the really hard choices. She could have been homeless, but found refuge with family friends. She should have been starving, instead somehow she enough money to buy food and cigarettes for other people, even when she wasn’t working. Once she was working she was able to buy a $125 shirt on a whim, despite her slave wages and increased rent. Grace’s best friend experienced the worst trauma and conflict, but even then her rich daddy was able to swoop in unexpectedly and take her away from all the ugliness.
I wanted, desperately, to get to know Ben, the boy Grace was minding. But… I never really even got a feel for Ben. He was barely a shadow of a character. His larger than life mother stole all his air, and his philandering and flirtatious father was far more personable. In fact, looking back, I barely even remember him, the way he spoke, the way he behaved. Was he prone to tantrums? Did he act as spoiled as I imagine he would? After 336 pages, I still don’t know.
There were hints of culture shock, but again they were fluffed over. Grace comes from a place where homosexuality is criminalized, where gay men are stoned to death or lynched as being abominations. Yet she easily becomes good friends with an openly gay man. This would have been a chance for the author to really go deep into a topic, instead the issue was always skirted around. Grace’s friends would make rude comments and she would ignore them or walk away. No real discussion ever happened, nor did we ever learn why Grace was so tolerant when everyone else in her culture and society was not.
Even the worst tragedy that befell Grace seemed to come without warning, and ultimately without real consequences. When it was over another day appeared and another solution presented itself without Grace needing to work for it.
If all you need is a lazy read on a hot summer day, Minding Ben will probably do. It was entertaining enough to keep turning the pages but it never really made me think. Meh.