Minding Ben - Victoria Brown
Released April 2011
Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth
At the age of sixteen, Grace Caton leaves her family in Trinidad behind and heads for the Big Apple. There, Grace is to live with her cousin, only her cousin never arrives at the airport to pick her up. Young and in an unfamiliar area, Grace is forced to fend for herself.
Two years pass, and the novel really truly begins. Grace is now 18 and finds employment with a Jewish family. While Grace doesn't mind Ben, the young boy she's in charge of, or Ben's father Sol, it's Ben's mother, Miriam, who drives Grace batty. Miriam demands everything and offers little in return, not even the tiniest hint of friendship. Not even Grace's pay is worthwhile. However, the promise of a sponsorship allowing Grace to remain in America is her driving force.
When she's not working, Grace lives with an impoverished family. Sylvia, mother to three children, demands just as much of Grace as Miriam. Pot-smoking, unemployed Bo also lives in the house. Add to everything else the news from home about Grace's ailing father, and it's apparent that Grace's stress levels must be through the roof. Finding it hard to stand up for herself is Grace's weakness, but just how much can she take?
I'm stuck at how I really feel about Minding Ben. The writing lured me in and kept my attention from start to finish. However, I simply kept reading to see if Grace would develop a backbone and tell everyone off. Miriam and Sol's treatment of Grace is deplorable. I read most of the book with tension flaring because of the demands Grace continually put up with. I realize it was her age and culture leading the way, but I'd really wanted to see her lash out.
There were a few issues that niggled at me. Minding Ben starts with Grace heading to New York City. She arrives and is waiting at the airport for her cousin. No one shows up, and bam that chapter's over. Suddenly, two years have passed with no explanation into what happened. Grace now lives with Sylvia, Bo, and three children. I couldn't figure out who Bo really was. I first thought he was the father of Sylvia's kids, only that wasn't right, so then I assumed he was Sylvia's brother, but I wasn't sure. Some of this is cleared up much later in the book, towards the ending. Some is never answered. The reader can assume what happened to Ben's former nanny, but despite the build up, no one ever reveals the truth.
The unanswered questions will pose great fodder for book group conversations. I definitely think there is plenty within these pages that could lead to interesting discussions.