Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

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"Citizen Girl"

(Reviewed by Jennifer LeBlanc FEB 17, 2005)

Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss, the best-selling authors of The Nanny Diaries, are using the F-word. Not the Sex and the City approved word, the dirtier one- Feminism. They both proudly call themselves feminists during interviews and have chosen to write their highly anticipated second novel about a modern girl finding her feminist identity. It isn't fun, it isn't sexy, but the frighteningly true details and powerful story make this book an engrossing read.

Just as in the first novel, the lead character has a simple, generic but representative name: Girl. She's a 24-year old Wesleyan grad raised by an old school feminist. Her mother's writer's colony once housed Sylvia Plath and as much as Girl would like to change the world, she also needs to pay her rent. Although her mother would like her to start her own "system," her boss at the nonprofit center doesn't even trust her "to alphabetize." After being fired, "in this economy," she reminds us, nonprofit becomes a non-option and Girl is plunged into the corporate world, torn between her inner activist and her empty bank account. During an interview with a cashmere-clad girl her age Girl finds herself thinking,

I detest her and every last thing about this whole event. I am, however, still sickeningly dazzled by her ring, proving that I am officially going to end up as a starving forty-five-year old Greenpeace petitioner drooling her days away outside Tiffany's.

Soon Girl thinks she has found the perfect mix of both worlds with MyCompany, a beauty and health website that wants to add the Ms. Magazine archive to their site and draw feminist viewers. That puts Girl, with her feminist background, in charge of "leveraging and rebranding," whatever those things mean. As long as she gets paid and does something for women Girl can live with it. But principles she didn't even know she had start interfering once she's in the middle of this new world. Her male chauvinist bosses, who trust her to organize conferences and focus groups, insist she find out what kind of lingerie feminists purchase the most- the Ms. archive needs advertisements too. And there are free Vagisil t-shirts to give out. Girl's mother calls it rebelling; Girl calls it working. It doesn't take long for her to realize that feminism is just a facade for MyCompany. For them to publicly prove their commitment to women they pledge a million dollars to The Magdalene Agency, which helps women who have escaped sexual slavery. In Julia, the founder of Magdalene, Girl finds someone she can finally look up to and ask for advice, someone with beliefs. Not long after, however, the Ms. idea is abandoned and MyCompany begins courting a pair of British lingerie designers. Kat and Liz, co founders of Bovary Intimates, make the Hilton sisters seem like Victorian spinsters. Solely to get the money to Magdalene, Girl goes along with every insane, trashy and downright anti-feminist idea, almost completely losing herself during the ride. In the end Girl must choose between being rich by age 25 or live by what she has come to believe.

With the Nanny Diaries none of us humble readers could be sure what was true or fantastically made up. Unlike the authors none of us have ever cared for the next generations of New York's elite. But to believe Citizen Girl we only need to look around. Think about why Paris Hilton is famous. And think about the last time you picked up a copy of Ms. magazine. During a focus group with gender studies students Girl is told their idea of feminism is "Sexual freedom." They explain further: "The Ms. thing is so over -- We don't hate men." Through Girl the authors plead,

It's not about hate! It's about every one of you walking out that door, graduating, and leading a life where your gender doesn't determine your salary, your welfare, your health care, or your safety. It's not a negative movement! It's a positive one.

Citizen Girl has already been labeled chicklit, simply because it was written by two young females. But this is not like the formulaic, breezy reads with pastel paperbacks. Citizen Girl goes beyond chicklit, beyond the battle of old vs. new feminism. You have to read it to understand. But if all you want when you're finished is a lousy Vagisil t-shirt, you missed the point.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 223 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Citizen Girl at SimonSays.com

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"The Nanny Diaries"

(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran MAY 8, 2002)

If anyone reading this happens to be an ultra-rich chi-chi Manhattan socialite, a latte-sipping, cashmere twin set-wearing, known-by-your-first name-at Barney's kind of girl, you might just want to click on over to another review. Maybe you can find something like "The Millionaire Next Door and Down the Hall and in the Play Group," or maybe "Nantucket on $1,000 a Day." Or heck, why don't you just go out and get yourself a manicure? Because I just don't think you're going to like The Nanny Diaries, a tell-all written by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, two former New York nannies. If you're like me, a known-by-your-first-name-at-Target kind of girl, you're going to like it very much.

The Nanny Diaries, a delicious little piece of mind candy, tells the story of a struggling college student named, appropriately enough, Nanny. She puts herself through NYU tending to the progeny of New York's upper crust. Her current charge, a rough and tumble four-year old named Grayer (the family's last name is only given as "X"), has a schedule that rivals the president's in its intensity. Nanny picks Grayer up from pre-school and ferries him to play dates, music lessons, swimming lessons, physical education classes, karate, piano, and French. Did I mention that he's four? And where's his mother during all this enrichment? At the helm of some high powered law firm? No she's at the spa, or lunching with friends or meeting with her decorator. Nanny serves as "one of a cast of many to collectively provide twenty-four/seven 'me time' to a woman who neither works nor mothers. And her days remain a mystery to us all."

The authors, NYU grads themselves, have filled the novel with humorous events allegedly based on their personal experiences. In the introduction, Nanny describes the interviews she has been through with prospective employers. The mothers usually detail "The Rules." The child is "allergic to dairy, allergic to strawberries, allergic to peanuts, allergic to some kind of grain.. .Will only eat blueberries sliced. Sandwiches must be made facing east. He won't eat anything starting with the letter M. No additives, no preservatives . .No American food." In one particularly funny episode, Nanny must accompany Grayer, Mr. and Mrs. X to a company Halloween party, although only Nanny and Grayer are in costume, matching Teletubbie costumes. Mr. X has rejected his costume custom-made by the costume department of "The Lion King." "Dear God .. .If I wanted to get dressed up in bizarre costumes, I could be making way more money than this."

The Nanny Diaries also has a voyeuristic appeal. It's a sneak peek into the life of the latter day robber barons, who seem to have more money than God. I don't exactly live in the boondocks, but I never knew that some people assemble (well, their nannies assemble) gift bags for the dinner party guests. Mrs. X compiles a list for Nanny's shopping. Her guests will go away with "Annick Goutal soap, Piper Heidsieck, small bottle, Morocco leather travel picture frame. . Mont Blanc pen-small." Wow. My guests sometimes get to take home leftover dessert. Grayer has his own wing in their apartment while Nanny splits a studio with a roommate and the roommate's hairy boyfriend.

The authors are careful not to let Nanny become overly whiny. She truly loves working with children and Grayer is a typical pre-schooler, mostly fun and lovable. At times, Mrs. X threatens to go over the top, to become the Wicked Witch of Park Avenue. Would anyone leave their gravely child and head off to a week at the Golden Door? But the authors let her evoke just enough sympathy (think Mr. X and his assistant caught in flagrante delicto by Nanny and Grayer) to convince Nanny to stay on and stay she does until the situation becomes unbearable. The gut-wrenching conclusion provides ample food for thought on the subject of child-rearing. It should make any parent or care-giver squirm just a bit. Come to think of it, maybe those Manhattan socialites should read this after all.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 1428 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)


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About the Author:

Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlinNicola Kraus (left) and Emma McLaughlin (right) reside in New York City. They are no longer nannies.

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