Nan Hutchinson wanted to make it right.
Really, she did. It wasn’t her fault that nannying for the Xes, a prominent family in New York City’s elite, had almost cost her her sanity. It’s been more than ten years since Nanny was employed by Mr. and Mrs. X, two people who put more value in making money and spending it than they did caring for their only son — because that was Nan’s job, see, and one she took seriously. And did well.
And maybe a little too well. Because after Grayer begins to show more favor for Nan than his own mother, the Xes decide the best course of action is to rip Nan away from her young charge — and she hasn’t seen Grayer since, nor been given an opportunity to say goodbye. Grayer grows up believing he’s been abandoned by her, just as he’s already been abandoned by his selfish, neglectful parents. And in all this time, Nan has never been given a chance to explain.
More than a decade later, Nan, now 33, has finished her master’s degree and married Ryan (also known as H.H., or “Harvard Hottie,” a former resident in the Xes’ high-rise). The couple has spent the past few years of their marriage touring the world for Ryan’s work with the UN, but the time has come for the two to settle back in their native world of New York City. Nan has started her own human resources consulting business and is struggling to find her first “big” client as the pair move into a dilapidated home downtown — a place in which, Ryan hopes, they’ll be starting their own family. Soon. Like, soon soon — or as soon as the renovations can be completed, anyway.
But Nan’s not so sure. Just being back in the same vicinity of Manhattan’s elite brings on a serious case of post-traumatic stress over the X debacle, and the stress she feels considering how simple it is to scar a child for life isn’t to be taken lightly. The Grayer in her mind’s eye is still screaming for her, desperately wanting to know why she left him — and the image won’t quite fade. It’s in this in-between state of trying to organize her new life in a house that’s falling apart in a new but familiar world that she receives a knock on the door, immediately pulling her back to her 21-year-old self. It’s Grayer, now 17 years old. And with a lot on his mind.
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’s Nanny Returns, the sequel to 2000’s bestselling The Nanny Diaries, follows Nan as she navigates the chaotic world of lies, betrayal, elitism and passing the buck — but also details redemption, forgiveness, growth and, mostly importantly, the power of family. By turns laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, heartbreaking and rage-inducing, you couldn’t have pried Nanny Returns from my cold, blogger-weary fingertips. (Unless you have a really, really strong grip.) It was my constant companion for three days, pulled out at any opportunity I had to read a passage or two. Because really, it’s that entertaining — and just that good.
First, confession time: while I’ve seen the 2007 film based on The Nanny Diaries starring Scarlett Johansson as Nanny and Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as Mr. and Mrs. X, respectively, I’ve never actually read the book. I know, I know — the shame! Still, I’d heard wonderful comments on how entertaining and eye-opening it was and, since I’m obsessed with all things related to Manhattan’s upper echelon — a la “Gossip Girl” — there was no way I could pass this one up.
And since I’ve seen the movie and remember it quite well, I had no trouble at all jumping right into the plotline. I’m sure there were plenty of inside references to events that happened in The Nanny Diaries that I just wouldn’t have picked up on, but I can’t say that troubled me in the least. McLaughlin and Kraus did an excellent job of giving me all the background knowledge I needed to move forward but, I’m sure, not overwhelming folks already well-acquainted with the characters.
What really made the book for me was the independent, forward-thinking and proactive Nan — an excellent example of a capable woman who hasn’t been hardened by life’s experiences. While she’s sensitive and compassionate, she’s hard-working and serious, too — and I loved that all of these attributes could exist in one person. Too often I find a novel led by a meek, twittering heroine, and I just can’t stand it. (I know that’s ironic, considering my devotion to the Twilight series, but humor me. Please.) Nan is capable and ready to handle life’s challenges, and I rooted for her from beginning to end — knowing that no matter what happened, she could handle it.
And I’m a little bit in love with seven-year-old Stilton X, the unabashed object of his brother Grayer’s devotion. What a charming, loveable kid! Each character in the story was so well-drawn, I felt like I would be able to recognize them on the street — and would love to strike up a conversation with them. Stilton, in particular, brought out the serious nurturing instinct in me, and if I could have reached into the pages to smooth his hair and pour him some cereal for breakfast, I absolutely would have.
My favorite part of the novel is, without a doubt, the fact that everyone gets their just desserts sooner or later. By the novel’s closing pages, I could have jumped out of bed and done a happy cheer. In fact, I found myself pumping a fist and whispering “YEAH!” in the waning minutes of my time with Nanny Returns, just psyched to see that Nan isn’t the only one capable of defending herself and the people she cares for.
Don’t miss out on the latest installment in this series, read easily as a stand-alone or as a great complement to the first novel in the series. And I’m about to do something bizarre, even by my standards: I’ll be going back in time to read The Nanny Diaries just as soon as time allows!
4.5 out of 5!