When an 18-year-old girl lands a high-paying summer job as academic tutor for the well-behaved Ella Morison, she can’t believe her luck. But all is not quite as it seems.
Liu’s nameless first-person protagonist is grateful for the opportunity—staying with the wealthy, white Morison family in a perfect house on Arrow Island, she’s hours away from her anxious mother, her delinquent brother, and the specter of the father who abandoned them. Quickly, though, she encounters mysteries that her roving mind cannot easily resolve. Why is she drawn to Henry, Ella’s “more than a little irritating” older brother? How can she reach an apparently, inexplicably distracted Ella? And what darkness lurks in the shadows of the home, waking her and Ella at night and threatening the whole family? This isn’t a new story, echoing other outsiders-serving-the-rich lore from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) to Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’ The Nanny Diaries (2003). Liu’s welcome update of a Chinese-American heroine is offset by the awkward inclusion of italicized Mandarin directly followed by translation. Still, the intrigues are compelling, and Liu’s descriptions of both the protagonist’s life of striving and her brush with privilege ring fresh and true.
A breezy thriller with brief forays into matters of race, class, and the paranormal. (Suspense. 12-18)