The Caretakers

Amanda Bestor-Siegal. Morrow, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-063-13818-6

Bestor-Siegal explores the isolating world of au pairs in her introspective debut set in Maisons-Larue, France. The quiet, predominantly white town is rattled by the arrest of Alena, an American au pair charged with the murder of Julian Chauvet, an eight-year-old boy she had in her care. The mystery of what happened to Julien unravels through the perspectives of a neglected daughter and a number of caretakers‚ from au pairs to the mothers who sometimes feel inadequate, and their shame is only heightened by the community’s class-based judgment (Bestor-Siegal sums up the collective attitude among the working mothers: “This is what happens when you don’t raise your own children”). The whodunit plotline, though, is entirely eclipsed by a series of powerful narratives from Alena as well as fellow au pairs Holly and Lou, all of whom deal with homesickness and struggle to adapt in France; and from their host families who keep disrespecting their boundaries. While it takes a while to understand how each story and character connects to Julien’s murder due to the slow progression of the plot, Bestor-Siegal excels at character development. Once the author gets going, she cracks open an intriguing world. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (Apr.)
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