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Substitute Me

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Lori Tharps

“A great read! I can only imagine the discussions this novel will stimulate in book clubs.” —Kathleen Grissom, author ofThe Kitchen House      “With a perceptive and honest eye, Lori Tharps delivers a compelling … see full wiki

Author: Lori Tharps
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Atria
1 review about Substitute Me

Nanny vs. Mommy in Brooklyn

  • Aug 24, 2010
Spoilers, Substitute Me alternates points of view among Zora Anderson, a 30-year-old black woman who, after living in Paris, decides to take a job as a nanny to a white family--something she knows would horrify her parents and brother, and Kate Carter, publicist, wife of Brad and mother of Oliver. I don't want to give too much away but I can say that while the alternating viewpoints are interesting, Kate seemed to be deliberately painted as clueless, culturally insensitive, myopic and out for herself. I opened the book and immediately wondered, on page one, whether Zora was named after Zora Neale Hurston (she is), so was pretty shocked that a liberal Brooklyn-dwelling married white woman would never have at least heard of the famous author.

Kate is, in many ways, painted as extremely uptight; she doesn't get her husband's interest in comic books, and dismisses them. She is very much the harried working mother, except without so much of the harriedness because she has Zora to take care of her son and cook for her. I found the drama here compelling and a quick read, and the exploration of the Park Slope and Fort Greene neighborhoods of Brooklyn detailed and interesting, but there were some things that Zora wound up doing that seemed too sudden for my taste, that hadn't been built up enough. The action seemed sudden and I wasn't really sure where Zora's motivation was coming from.

What I liked best about the book was that Zora pursued her own path that didn't conform to what a lot of people, including her boyfriend, would've wanted for her. While she and Kate alternated chapters, Zora's seemed like the more vibrant life, perhaps because Kate was so prickly and seemingly sheltered and self-centered. It's interesting that even though one could argue Zora is the least sympathetic character, I felt more sympathy with her than with Kate (and their final confrontation at the end is a powerful one). This is definitely a novel that will spark lots of discussion about parenting, nannies, infidelity, race, class, and how women balance work and family/love interests.

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