Reviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Behind the glamour and the glitz of Hollywood, there is another side to Los Angeles. In The Barbarian Nurseries, Héctor Tobar offers a stark contrast between the lives of a well-to-do family and the life of their Mexican maid, Araceli. Araceli works for the Torres-Thompson household, headed by Scott, a mid-level executive for a software company. Due to economic hardships, the family has let go of their other two Mexican employees, leaving Araceli to take on some of their tasks.

Araceli is placed in an awkward situation when Scott and his wife, Maureen, fight over their financial shortcomings and leave Araceli alone with their two eldest children. Unable to reach either Scott or Maureen, Araceli is left with no other choice but to take them to the only family she knows they have: Scott’s Mexican father, who she only knows through a family photograph with central Los Angeles in its background.

I hope that you read The Barbarian Nurseries, and I hope that it makes you angry. Scott and Maureen seem like reasonable heads of the household at first appearance, but by the end of the book I was fed up with both of them. They are materialistic, selfish and ignorant, whereas Araceli is fascinating and full of dreams and ambition and is the type of character that Tobar’s readers should be rooting for.

To cover up their mistake, both Scott and Maureen lie and tell police that Araceli kidnapped their children, which brings about a trial that could destroy Araceli’s life. After all she has done for them, they do not offer their loyalty in return to her.

Tobar’s Los Angeles is nothing like the Los Angeles that I have become familiar with through my own adventures in the city. The Barbarian Nurseries is an eye-opening look at what lies beneath all the glitter and Hollywood magic.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Farrar, Strass and Giroux. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.