The Nanny Diaries

March 20, 2009
By Krystal Le BRONZE, Sugar Land, Texas
Krystal Le BRONZE, Sugar Land, Texas
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

In a world where babies cry on a second-to-second basis, where parents scramble to chug down their piping hot Starbucks on their way to work, and where teenagers all appear to be in a mass movement rebellion across the nation, it appears that America's hectic lifestyle needs more than some reform: it needs a magical Mary Poppins to make the medicine go down. And a couple of spoonfuls of sugar too, of course.
But what happens when that much-needed Mary Poppins is not anywhere in sight?
Then it is time to meet Nanny, the wittingly spunky protagonist of Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus' novel The Nanny Diaries. Set in New York's notoriously elite East Side, this hilarious comedy packs a punch as it closely examines the inner workings of Manhattan's upper social stratosphere from the viewpoint of a spirited NYU graduate student.
In other words, it is, as the movie version intelligently coined, 'life from the top as viewed from the bottom.'
A senior student struggling to balance her frenzied life and to survive the rich, pompous, and overall creepy streets of New York City, Nanny (yes, that is her name) sends out a series of application letters to become a part-time nanny. To her delight, she is immediately hired by the prosperous Mrs. X to care for her sole 4-year-old child, Grayer. From having to pick him up from his private pre-school at exactly 2:15 each afternoon to chauffeuring the toddler to his private French, music, swimming, ice-skating, karate, piano, and physical education classes on a daily basis, Nanny soon discovers that taking care of the super-wealthy X's son is anything but a simple babysitting activity.
After spending weeks with the X's, Nanny begins to unravel the mysterious lifestyles of the upper class elite ' and realizes that what appears to be a glamorous lifestyle is not so glamorous at all. With a cold divorce threatening Mr. and Mrs. X's relationship, she begins to understand that a kid who seems to have it all is really lacking the most essential ingredient ' parental love.
In this fresh fish-out-of-water comedy, Nanny sets her sights on maintaining her sanity, as well as Grayer's, as she and the X's face off in a battle of power, position, and authority.
Once former nannies themselves, McLaughlin and Kraus have created a startling realistic tale of what life truly is like behind the veiled curtains of Prada-wearing, Town and Country-toting, influential women. The writing style, set in the present tense, reflects the fresh-but-slightly-bewildered tone of a graduate student perfectly.
Perhaps more convincing, however, are the personalities of the characters themselves. While Grayer first appears to be a typical, spoiled brat of New York aristocracy, the reader soon realizes that there is so much more to him than meets the eye. What may come off as selfishness and stubbornness can actually be prescribed to the negligence that he has faced throughout his young life.
While sympathetic toward young Grayer, McLaughlin and Kraus spare little mercy for Mrs. X, the dysfunctional mom and employer. A detached, insecure, gossiping middle-aged woman, she lives the life of a royal queen, doing everything she is supposed to (a.k.a. receiving the best manicures, attending the East Side's hottest parties, and sporting elegant Valentino gowns), except for taking care of her own son. While the reader may feel a little sorry for her, the archetypical character draws mostly scorn and disappointment from the rest of American society.
One of the novel's weak points, however, is the characterization of the minor characters. Nanny's parents, while certainly humorous and sensible, are perhaps a little bit too humorous and sensible to be real-life parents. Her best friends are mentioned only a few times throughout the novel, leaving the reader with the sense that she has no social life (which may or may not be the novel's intent).
Perhaps the greatest disappointment of all, however, is that the dashing Prince Charming, who Nanny develops a romantic interest in, is never named, to the frustration of fairy-tale lovers. Rather, he is only referred to as 'Harvard Hottie' ' a name that gives him no depth, nor any personality.
For those romantics out there, that is certainly something to grieve over.
In truth, the characters and storyline are somewhat stretched to conform to a stereotypical palate of New Yorkers. While the main characters are certainly realistic, the minor characters are somewhat lacking in taste or substance. However, Nanny's delightful feisty personality definitely makes up for any other flaws. She is so true to herself and so caring to Grayer that readers cannot help but to love her. Determined and dedicated to her job, she certainly does more than what is required of an ordinary nanny ' and the harsh treatment she faces from the X family never fails to arouse the readers' sympathy for her and for any other nannies that may have undergone similar treatment.
She is definitely no Mary Sue, that much can be said. While she is a strong protagonist, her clumsiness and awkward nature reminds us often of ourselves. And just like the rest of America, she is trying to handle life as it comes, struggling to move forward despite her uncompromising position.
It is a trifling novel to any extent, one that is meant more to elicit laughs and smiles from the audience than to uncover a hidden truth about human nature. However, there can be no doubt to the sincerity of the writing or the integrity of the plot. While the storyline was blatantly primed to be a satire of the northeast's privileged class, there are several realistic elements that certainly strike true to home.
Without a doubt, any parent who has ever had a wild child will be amused by this energetically written novel. Any teenager or young adult who has ever babysat 24/7 for a toddler will be entertained. And any person who has ever encountered or experienced the manners of society's cream of the crop, la cr'me de la cr'me, will definitely be laughing the entire way through.

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