cover image Devotion


Madeline Stevens. Ecco, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-288322-3

Stevens’s intriguing yet uneven debut is a descent into obsession that follows Ella, a young woman from backwater Oregon who becomes a nanny for a wealthy 20-something couple in New York. Before acquiring her job, Ella’s meager existence in the Big Apple consists of barely having enough to eat and encouraging strangers to buy her dinner to stave off starvation. Though Ella’s charge is 16-month-old William, Ella spends most of her time observing his mother, Lonnie—whom readers know at the outset will leave her family. Ella investigates Lonnie and James’s house, reading Lonnie’s diary, looking through her photo albums, and pilfering the occasional trinket. Ella is aware Lonnie cheats on James with Carlow, their friend, which motivates her to attempt a seduction with Carlow in an attempt to get closer to Lonnie. At a writer’s retreat, Lonnie encourages Ella to swap identities with her to mess with the woman who leads the retreat, allowing Ella to revel in being Lonnie for a time. Ella is entranced by Lonnie’s beauty and is even more drawn to her after she discovers parallels with her own family history. The tension is reduced by revealing Lonnie’s disappearance up front, but Stevens meticulously elevates the mundane days of a nanny by injecting Ella’s life with her all-consuming adoration for Lonnie. This debut makes for a stimulating character study. [em](Aug.) [/em]