SUBSTITUTE ME by Lori Tharps


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A year spent working as a nanny in Brooklyn helps directionless Zora discover that her true passions are cooking and her boss’s husband.

Tharps’ guileless first novel (after Kinky Gazpacho: A Memoir, 2008) seems, like Zora, unsure of its orientation, heading out as a discussion of ambition but ending up a more conventional love triangle, the narration split between its two female characters, white overachiever Kate and the 30-year-old African-American college dropout she hires. Kate, happily married to Brad, is returning to her high-powered PR job after maternity leave and needs reliable help at home, which she finds in Zora, whose middle-class upbringing in Michigan has left her feeling guilty at her lack of professional focus. Although uncomfortable about “playing mammy,” Zora enjoys being a domestic goddess and begins cooking meals for Kate and Brad, leading to dreams of having her own catering company. Meanwhile, Kate’s job engulfs her, and Brad suddenly falls for Zora, leaving the marriage ruined. Tharp, more successful discussing stereotypes of black women and white men than explaining this plot twist, wraps matters up quickly, restoring her sadder but wiser protagonists to happiness.

A simple, readable tale takes an unusual detour before returning to predictable terrain.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7110-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2010