By Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
NANNY RETURNS available in hardcover from Atria Books
THE REAL REAL available in hardcover and paperback from HarperCollins
Review copies provided by publicist
I adored THE NANNY DIARIES, once I finally read it. (In the interest of full disclosure, for years I thought it was a biography of Fran Drescher. While I loved The Nanny, I didn't particularly have the urge to read about the star.) It's exactly what satire should be: ruthless, yet hilarious. It skewed the rich and the way they treat the help, in a portrait that seemed at once over-the-top and authentic. NANNY RETURNS never quite reaches those heights, though I ultimately enjoyed the novel. The main problem lies in the fact that 95% or so of the book is a major downer. (My mom agrees, in case you care.)
NANNY RETURNS begins twelve years after the events of THE NANNY DIARIES. Nan and her husband Ryan (the Harvard Hottie) have just moved back to New York, buying a run down building they hope to renovate and partially rent out. But soon Ryan has to return abroad for his job and the repairs keep going wrong.
And Grayer X, the boy Nan used to nanny, has tracked her down after finding her goodbye video eviserating his father and pleading with his parents to pay attention to him. His life isn't going so hot either. The Xes are divorcing, leading his mother to retreat into substance abuse. He needs to get his little brother Stilton into boarding school where he'll have supervision and care. Pretty soon, Nan is once more wrapped in the life of the Xes.
And then it gets worse. And worse. And while things end on a positive note . . . Nan's house still isn't habitable. A woman wronged by her employers is never heard from again. Children in trouble don't get the help they need. (Not even Grayer. He may manage to help Stilton out, but kid needs therapy.) Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus manage to keep their writing light and to inject humor into the proceedings, but they can't entirely disguise that they're grim proceedings indeed.
(It occurs to me that THE NANNY DIARIES works in almost the exact opposite way: things keep getting better and better until a hella depressing ending.) I could've easily hated this one if McLaughlin and Kraus's writing weren't so enjoyable, or if they didn't make Nan, Grayer, and several others so worth rooting for. But while fans of THE NANNY DIARIES will want to pick this up, it might not make the best Christmas gift. That is, unless you have someone you want to make cry. (Disclaimer on the crying: Monsters, Inc. made me cry. I'm easy.)
On the other hand, THE REAL REAL is a much frothier confection, much like the drings protagonist Jesse once served at a faux-Starbucks. She's enlisted to star in a reality show, with the rich kid clique and her equally cash-strapped crush. Unfortunately, her best friend is left out. Reality isn't interesting enough for the producers and scripted scenes quickly follow.
The blurb proclaims that Jesse struggles between telling "the difference between real and the real real." That's not quite true. Jesse never forgets that the show is bull. What she struggles with is the way the show affects her real image, and the way it's pressures cause her to act in real life. Participating in The Real Hampton Beach means Jesse can go to college she wants, but it may cost her everything else. To me, the plot McLaughlin and Kraus actually wrote is way more interesting than another nice girl becomes mean girl story. Jesse sometimes makes mean decisions, but she remains a basically decent person.
I breezed through THE REAL REAL. I assumed it would be a guilty pleasure, like the few reality TV shows I watch (The Bachelor(ette), Beauty and the Geek), but it quickly turned into a real pleasure. Unlike NANNY RETURNS, I fully recommened THE REAL REAL as a Christmas gift for a teen girl. At the very least, it may put her off ever wanting to appear on a reality TV show.