Eighteen-year-old Annie Phillips, the first person narrator of Anna Collomore’s YA novel The Ruining, is desperate to escape her trailer trash world outside of Detroit, Michigan and begin a new life. When she’s offered the opportunity to become a nanny on Belvedere Island, located about six kilometers north of San Francisco, she jumps at a chance. The gig sounds perfect: she’ll care for three-year-old Zoe and baby Jackson and take classes at San Francisco State University.
Libby and Walker Cohen are not like anyone Annie has ever met and it doesn’t take very long before Annie feels “a sudden, desperate urge to please Libby, to do everything right, to be the most exemplary nanny the Cohen family had ever had.”
In the beginning, life seems too good to be true. The Cohen’s house is “more like an estate or a castle” and Libby seems more like a girlfriend than an employer, offering Annie wine, shared confidences and a chance to raid her closet. It’s heady stuff for Annie, who comes from nothing and is dragging the baggage of a personal tragedy from her past.
The reality of my life in Detroit, a reality I’d spent almost every day wishing to escape, was gone. Disappeared, like I’d never been a part of it at all. And in order to leave it in the past, I couldn’t let myself worry about leaving my mother behind.
It won’t take the reader long to see the cracks, though, even if Annie is a little bit slow on the uptake. I cut her some slack because she’s young and damaged and trying so hard to make something of her life. However, Annie seems determined to ignore the signs that something is not quite right in the Cohen house. Libby is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: solicitous and kind one day, passive aggressive the next. Walker is gregarious and friendly, but mostly absent. There are no grandparents, no extended family – Annie is isolated until she meets Owen, the literal boy next door.
The Ruining races along at a good pace, traversing the line between suspenseful and ridiculous with aplomb. Collomore manages to make it just possible for the reader to believe that Annie might be more damaged from her past than even she realizes; however, there can be no mistaking who the villain of the piece is.
The Ruining was fun to read, well-written and definitely recommendable; I know my students will gobble it up. Can’t say I was a huge fan of the ending, though. For me it was contrived and way too tidy given the complicated nature of Annie’s circumstances.