A counselor for an au pair agency tries to keep everyone—parents, au pairs and her own family—happy in this debut novel.
Liza Hart worries about passing along her mother’s bipolar disease to her daughter, Zora. Working as a counselor for an au pair agency gives her the flexibility to care for her child at home, important because she believes “that loving her child and being there for her could protect her from the family legacy of mental illness.” In the overheated atmosphere of Washington, D.C., two of her Very Important Parents (the wife is a senator) blame the agency when their Brazilian au pair announces on Facebook that she’s in a relationship with the senator’s brother, and it’s up to Liza to appease everyone. Several events conspire to get Liza thinking about how child care issues intersect with politics, leading to a new direction in her life. Many readers are likely to identify with Liza, particularly young parents who are trying to get the work-life balance right. “Letting someone else take care of Zora…seemed like such an insurmountable obstacle,” thinks Liza. Liza, an admitted martyr, does have a way of making things hard on herself (earnest young parents may recognize themselves here), like making a dessert from scratch after a busy day when she could have just served ice cream. If such moments had been handled with more humor and less self-righteousness, it would have been easier for readers to smile in recognition, but Liza’s judgmental streak isn’t restricted to her own parenting. For example, parents who use day care are described as “handing their children over to someone else.” Though the novel presents Liza as growing and changing, she solves her dilemmas not through her own agency but through strokes of fate, like meeting an NPR host on an airplane or receiving an unexpected inheritance.
Competent and timely, but could have examined its assumptions about parenting more critically.