Between by Angie Abdou

The epigraph for part one of this novel is a Filipino proverb: When the blanket is short, learn how to bend.

And for part two: She who does not speak has something  boiling up inside.

Part three is a quotation from the Sprucedale Nanny Agency: A nanny shouldBetween respect family rules, keep matters in the home confidential, and communicate any concerns about the children. Open communication is the key to a strong relationship. Engage the nanny in daily discussions about the children’s schedule and behaviour. It’s also a good idea to schedule regular meetings with your nanny. If you have concerns about your nanny’s work, be direct, but don’t air conflicts in front of the children.  Above all, treat your nanny fairly. A family that treats a nanny with respect will benefit ten times over in her treatment of their children and themselves. She’ll bend over backwards for you.

Part four’s epigraph is taken from a travel brochure for the Hedonism II resort attended by the parents in this novel: Hedonism is a sandbox for your inner child, nourishment for the mind,body, spirit, and soul.  Pleasure comes in many forms. Choose one. Or two. Or more. And with absolutely everything included in one upfront price, you never have to think about money. Not even tips. Just what to do next. And when.

Part five is another Filipino proverb: Where there is home, there is hope.

It is quite possible to study the five epigraphs and formulate your own story. Try it. Each attempt will be slightly different. What would you write in each part? Well, perhaps you’ve never had a nanny but you knew someone who did. Chances may be even higher that you haven’t been to a resort like Hedonism II but…..there is your imagination. The other three are easier though eh?

What you might write will be part of your story and what Angie Abdou has done is give us the complicated story of two women, Vero and Ligaya as the former adjusts to having a third person in her home caring for her children and the latter adjusts to being away from her home and family and trying to understand and circumnavigate a somewhat foreign cultural milieu as well as earn money for her own family.

We meet Vero’s boys, Eliot and Jamal, her husband Shane the pharmacist, her friend Joss and we meet Ligaya who becomes LiLi in her new country and we meet her friend Cheska in whose face Ligaya sees “a mirror of herself” and who both agree that it would take them a lifetime to learn all the silly rules that govern North American conversation and relationships.

Here’s a wee taste of Ligaya and Cheska’s time when Vero and Shane go away to the resort:

“Even with Vero and Shane away, Ligaya feels that Cheska’s presence in the house is a transgression. Cheska is not Shane’s friend and this is Shane’s house. Still, Ligaya puts a matress on the floor of the sitting room, by Shane’s weights, and invites Cheska to stay overnight. “Cheska will be our secret,” she says to Eliot and Jamal. “Part of the Philippines game.” Cheska looks much like Ligaya, could be a younger sister, but Cheska smiles more than Ligaya does. Cheska eats more too and talks more. Cheska does everything more. “Eliot and Jamal will not tell,” Ligaya assures her. “They know this word, sumbungero.” Tattletale. “My boys are no  tattletales.” Eliot and Jamal like secrets and they like an extra nanny in the basement, as if their Ligaya has multiplied. Twice the tickles, twice the admiration, twice the treats, twice the applause at their mastery of tricky words like sumbungero.

The balance drawn Between the main characters is delicate and impartial in my opinion: the reader is able to see the situation from all sides including the children’s point of view. I found the most satisfying aspects of this presentation of a complicated situation to be the balance just mentioned along with the fact that everyone in the novel experiences personal growth and this makes it a very satisfying and uplifting read.

Sample:

-from the telephone interview Vero has with Ligaya:

“Do you like hiking, Ligaya? I go every day on beautiful trails through the woods. You could come with me.” Vero wonders if the neighbours would approve of this word she uses to describe her sporadic and loud barefooted bolts into the woods.

“Hiking?” Ligaya’s voice wavers, uncertain. Vero has veered from the script (provided by the nanny agency). She imagines Ligaya looking at the administrator in the Hong Kong agency, a question in her eyes.”

After more vigorous description oh her hiking activities which sounds somewhat like an infomercial and includes a reference to sweating buckets, Ligaya responds:

“Oh, ma’am, that sounds very funny. In my country, we sweat when we work. I have never sweat for the fun.” There’s an echoing pause on the line, and then she adds, “But if you like, I come with you ma’am.”