At sixteen, Grace Caton boards her first airplane, leaving behind the tropical papaya and guava trees of her small village in Trinidad for another island, this one with tall buildings, graceful parks, and all the books she can read. At least that’s what Grace imagines. But from the moment she touches down, nothing goes as planned. The aunt who had promised to watch over her disappears, and Grace finds herself on her own.
Grace stumbles into the colorful world of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, having been taken in hand, sort of, by a fellow islander, Sylvia. Here, she’s surrounded by other immigrants also finding their way in America.
From her Orthodox Jewish landlord, Jacob, to her wannabe Jamaican friend, Kathy, who feels that every outfit can be improved with a Bedazzler and a low-cut top, there’s much to learn about her new city.
Most challenging of all is figuring out her new employers, the Bruckners, an upper-middle-class family in Manhattan. The job is strange Grace’s duties range from taking daily nude photos of her pregnant boss (a shock to her, since she’s never even seen her own mother naked) to dressing in a traditional maid’s costume to serve Passover Seder. But Grace loves four-year-old Ben, and she’s intrigued by the alternately friendly and scheming nannies who spend their days in Union Square Park, and by their constant gossip about who’s hired, who’s fired, and who, scandalously, married her boss.
As the seasons change, Grace discovers that the Bruckners have surprising secrets of their own, and her life becomes increasingly complicated and confusing. But opportunities appear in the most unexpected places, and Grace realizes that she’s living in a city and a world where anything is possible.
I guess the fact that I went into reading this not expecting a Nanny Diaries clone is a very good thing. I didn’t have any preconceptions on what this book should be like. Instead, I let it stand and breath on its own.
And what I found it to be was a wonderfully, dark piece of literature about the human soul and its will to survive. It is difficult for a girl at the age of 16 to travel to a new country, attempt to find work, and manage to survive all on her own. I know this because my own grandmother did the same thing. She travelled from Scotland to Canada at the age of 16. She was lucky enough to find a local TB sanatorium that taught her the nursing skills (back in those days you didn’t go to college to learn to be a nurse).
Grace didn’t have that luck. Instead, she found herself working for a family who treated her more like a slave, then as an employee. This story tells us all the things that Grace endured in order to go on with her life.
To me, it is a testament of the strength of the human will and I found it inspirational that Grace not only rose above her situation, but was able to go on to college.