Unsuitable by Ainslie Paton

UnsuitableWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the author. 

In the interests of disclosure, the author and I chat on Twitter often and we met when I was in Sydney in March of this year. If I didn’t think I could be objective I wouldn’t review her work here.  Ultimately, it is for readers of the review to decide if it has any value to them.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Can they make trailblazing and homemaking fit, or is love just another gender stereotype?

Audrey broke the glass ceiling.

Reece swapped a blue collar for a pink collar job.

She’s a single mum by design. He’s a nanny by choice.

She gets passed over for promotion. He struggles to find a job.

She takes a chance on him. He’s worth more than he knows.

There’s an imbalance of power. There’s an age difference.

There’s a child whose favourite word is no.

Everything about them being together is unsuitable.

Except for love.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I moved this one up the TBR queue when I realised it had a male nanny.  Not only is he a male nanny, he’s tall and broad, so he doesn’t fit the physical picture of a male nanny one may naturally assume.  That’s not me being sexist – that’s made explicit in the book.  His body actually works against him when he’s looking for work in his chosen field.   He doesn’t look like a thug but he does look like a muscly giant of a man.  Very nice to look at in the man candy stakes but kind of incongruous when paired with a nanny role.  Let’s face it, nannying is considered “women’s work” – not just by men, by almost everyone.  There’s no reason this should be the case, other than prejudice but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Audrey, who has copped her own fair share of discrimination in the workplace struggles against her innate prejudice and what she knows she ought to do – that is, make a decision solely on who is the best applicant for the job, regardless of gender.  And she does, but not without some distraction.

God he had great eyes. The shape, the glossy jade colour, the heavy black lashes that matched his thick hair. Not that his eyes had anything to do with his qualification as a child care worker. Other than that he wasn’t a blind child care worker, which made them an asset. Oh God. The other applicants all had eyes in working order but not so pretty.

Reece and Mia, Audrey’s little girl, hit it off immediately.  I admit that seeing dads with their kids hits my soft spots – it’s one of the ways I fall in love with my husband over and over again.  Reece isn’t Mia’s dad of course, but his love and care for her is immediately far more than merely a job to pay the bills.

It’s not only potential employers who judge Reece – it’s also his girlfriend and his best mate.  At least his mate is reluctantly supportive but Sky is actively disapproving – because she thinks Reece lacks ambition and his goals are too low.

Reece is ten years older than his next youngest sister and when his stepdad died, his mum relied upon Reece for child care and child rearing.  Reece’s mum acknowledges it was unfair but it was what it was.  Reece resented it as a teenager but he is deeply attached to his four sisters and his desire to be a nanny and eventually run his own child care centre stems directly from his experiences with them.

Conversely, Audrey’s family’s own particular brand of dysfunction led her to become a single parent by choice, with donor sperm from a good friend who is otherwise uninvolved in Mia’s care.  Audrey believes the only person she can rely upon is herself.  She understands financial transactions as between employee and employer for example, but is far less trusting of love. Contracts makes sense to her. Love seems too unreliable.

Reece is such a natural carer and nurturer that in no time at all, he’s pretty much looking after Audrey too.  He makes sure she has basic groceries and often cooks her dinner and, when she falls ill, his caring becomes more overt.  They become friends and then more but Audrey is convinced there can be nothing lasting between them – she’s seven years his senior and his employer, she’s at a different stage in life, yada, yada. What Reece feels for Audrey is bigger than anything he’s ever experienced before and he’s all in.  He somehow manages to make taking whatever he can get from her not pathetic. He’s many things but he’s never a doormat.

Naturally there is a black moment (this is a romance, no?) and things fall apart and Audrey has to revisit her thinking.

What else? I thought the examination of gender roles was really interesting in this book.  In many ways, traditional roles are flipped on their heads.  Reece is the nurturer, the one who cooks and does laundry (although, he’s also much more than that – of course; everybody is) and Audrey is in the traditional “breadwinner” role with the late nights and the corporate travel.  I did think the turnaround at Audrey’s work was a bit fairytale-ish – nice but also a bit unbelievable. And the ending felt a bit rushed.

There are some things at the end which I felt were under-researched but to go into detail would be spoilerish.  Let’s just say that certain …examinations can be done far earlier than the book suggests.

The conflict which causes the black moment was genuine but I guess my own focus would have been a little different to Audrey’s.  I think the lack of disclosure would have been the deal breaker for me, even though I understand why Reece kept quiet.  I got past it because haven’t we all done silly things in our pasts that we’d rather hadn’t happened?  Also, I liked him. Which is probably hypocritical but there you have it.

The book’s pacing felt a little uneven to me and I found Audrey occasionally frustrating because Reece was ticking all the boxes and she just kept coming up with new boxes.

There was a thing that happened late in the book which turned out to be a kind of lucky break and I wonder what would have happened if not for it (she says mysteriously).  Would Audrey and Reece have been able to have their HEA?

I liked the secondary characters – Merrill and Joe, their struggles felt familiar and authentic and Les and Polly.  I would have liked a few more scenes with Les and Polly on their own because I felt their romance was underdeveloped – what I saw was very sweet but it wasn’t quite enough to qualify as a secondary storyline IMO.

Speaking of secondary characters – there are quite a few and they’re all introduced basically at once and it took me a little while to work out who was who – between the sisters and the friends and the girlfriend and the best mate. Even though they were numerous and it took a while for me to place them, I liked they were there.  Both Reece and Audrey had family around them – the kind you might make yourself or the kind you are born into and it gave the book a lovely sense of community.

As a hero-centric reader, Reece pushed many of my good hero buttons and I liked that Audrey was mostly unapologetic about her choice to have a child alone. By mostly, I mean that she occasionally questioned herself (as one does) but she wasn’t constantly beating herself up, which I appreciated.  Mia was a cute kid, but not a complete angel either and I liked the way the narrative acknowledged that loving someone doesn’t require wilful blindness, especially when it comes to children.

Grade: B


5 comments on “Unsuitable by Ainslie Paton

  1. azteclady

    Oh gawd how you tempt me.

  2. Kaetrin

    @azteclady: It’s like, 99c! also: Male. Nanny. *whistles*

  3. Jo

    Annnnd Sold! 🙂

  4. Kaetrin

    @Jo: @azteclady: Awww – I think you ladies will enjoy! Come back and let me know?

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