Who Loves You Best
by Tess Stimson
(Bantam, $15, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-345-52571-0
****
A quirky Brit Chick Lit page-turner of a novel with multiple points of view, Who Loves You Best examines the mother-nanny relationship without judgment.

Clare Elias is so organized that she even puts “having an orgasm” on her to-do list. She’s a successful London business owner, happily married to a handsome investment banker who is 8 years her junior. Clare has timed her pregnancy perfectly now that she and Marc are emotionally and financially ready, and has even taken the news that she is having twins with equanimity – after all, how much harder can two babies be than one?

Of course the reality is nothing like what she expected, and Clare quickly finds herself overwhelmed. Her son, Rowan, has medical problems at birth and Clare has trouble bonding with him. His schedule and temperament are completely different from his sister, Poppy. Soon the house is a mess, Clare is a sleep-deprived emotional wreck, and her perfectly ordered life is in chaos. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, she hires a nanny.

Jenna Kemeny is looking for a new live-in nanny position to escape her abusive boyfriend. She had never planned to care for other people’s children for a living, but her promising athletic career was derailed by a car accident, and she drifted into the profession. She is great with kids, but managing her personal life is another matter.

Who Loves You Best utilizes a gimmicky but effective point of view: chapters are narrated by Clare, Jenna, and several secondary characters, including Clare’s feckless husband, her self-absorbed mother and her irresponsible brother. The narrators describe many of the same events through their own eyes, and many of the events are incomplete without more than one point of view. This provides the reader with different perspectives on complicated situations, making it impossible to find any clear heroes or villains in the story.

The most complex relationship in the novel is the one between mother and nanny. One of Clare’s friends compares it to a marriage, with a honeymoon period, an inevitable crisis and a final phase where the relationship either lasts or falls apart. Clare is determined not to treat Jenna as a servant, yet she gradually realizes she can’t be her friend, and she is annoyed when Jenna is not constantly available. She also feels guilty about working outside the home and jealous of Jenna’s ease with the babies. For her part, Jenna realizes Clare is a good boss, but she grows resentful when Clare gives her household chores that have nothing to do with child care. Both women fear that the other has the upper hand in the relationship, but both are also unequivocally devoted to the twins.

The novel moves along at a rapid pace, as illness, betrayal, and financial ruin threaten both Clare’s and Jenna’s worlds. Although the tone is mostly dramatic, there are a few moment of dry humor thrown in. The book’s only major weakness is the inclusion of an unnecessary and under-developed romantic interest for one of the main characters.

I picked up Who Loves You Best at my local Target, where it was a Book Club pick. I don’t doubt that many female Target shoppers will be able to identify with Clare and Jenna, and the difficult choices they make in the name of love.

--Susan Scribner


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