Known as the land of opportunities, America is a place where many different people come together on common ground. Throughout history, immigrants have made their way to this country and a new way of life in an effort to live their dreams.
In Minding Ben by Victoria Brown, we follow the life of Grace Canton. She is a young woman from a very small village in Trinidad, who has chosen to emigrate in order to reach that golden ring. Leaving her home and making her way to New York is a difficult task. Her mother does not want her to leave but her father wants to live her dream. The pressure is uncomfortable, but the trip is on. She is to meet a relative when she reaches the states, one who can give her a place to live until she can find a job and set up a new home.
However, not everything happens the way it is supposed to. Grace’s relative does not show, leaving her on her own in a city larger than she ever imagined possible, and a place she has never been. Finding a home with Sylvia, another expatriate of Trinidad, performing small chores and watching her children, Grace continues to look for that job, the one that will allow her to become a citizen.
Finding what she expects is the perfect job, minding their son Ben, Grace accepts a job with a wealthy family, the Bruckner’s. Maintaining her relationship with Sylvia, living at her home when not at the new live-in job, she continues to do chores and watch Sylvia’s brood when she is able. Is this really her dream, her opportunity to become a citizen, and make a living wage?
Grace is a young naive woman from another country; she is open and optimistic, and easy to take advantage of. She is loving and enjoys looking after children, and does not mind the other things that usually come with that type of job. She often receives notes, and occasionally a call from her mother, using subtle pressure to get her home. When her beloved father becomes ill, the pressure mounts. She plans on staying here, though, as her new employers have offered to back her for her dream of citizenship. What she finds, though, is entirely different from the promises they have offered.
The groups of women that mind the children in the area of the Bruckner’s home meet often in the park with their small charges. Those relationships are also another look into the life of the immigrants and the reality of these West Indian babysitters that have been a staple in the lives of these families for decades.
Minding Ben is an enjoyable and interesting look at life on the inside of an immigrants dream. It is well written with a pace that is easy to follow. It is full of fear and joy, but also peppered with bits of story that are sad and sometimes create despair. Entire lives are lived in an effort to find their way in the home of their choosing, and the story is not always comfortable.
There is love and laughter, sadness and pain, and yet through all the trials and tribulations, Grace continues to keep faith and hope alive. An inherent kindness shows through and keeps you rooting for her to receive what she hopes for. It is a message of hope and makes you think about those things that we hold dear, the freedom and home that we were born too. The story makes you feel more passionate about those things that we hold dear as a country, and the reason we fight so hard to maintain those freedoms.
Minding Ben be an interesting book for a book club or reading group. It is passionate and full of information. The struggles evinced will keep the intrigue going and the dialogue robust. If you enjoy learning about others and the challenges of change, you will love this book. It is an interesting inside look at the lives of those looking to find their way.