Substitute Me by Lori L. Tharps

Lori L. Tharps is becoming one of my favorite authors! I recently finished her novel, Substitute Me, and I highly recommend it. After a day and a half, I was turning the last page. Reading it was bittersweet, because it was a solitary experience and not with a reading group. My dream is to have a reading group. Oh well…maybe one day!

Zora is a thirty-year old African-American woman in transition. She hasn’t quite found her particular niche. Her parents expectations and the knowledge that she has never quite lived up to them, hangs over her life like an anvil. For this reason, she doesn’t tell them that she has accepted a job as a nanny in New York City. Zora is well traveled, college educated (though a dropout), artistic, and a culinary queen. She holds a certificate from a culinary school in her hometown. This novel explores how Zora navigates, race, sex, and class (not to mention love, vocation, infidelity) as a nanny and eventually a homemaker for a thirtysomething White couple and their infant son.

Tharps does a great job with character development for Zora as well as Kate and Brad. The plot builds slowly, but it holds my attention. I enjoyed those little touches of foreshadowing. The dialogue was authentic and the thoughts of the characters that the reader is privy to were nuanced and multilayered.

I loved this story and found myself talking to the book. As I was reading, I thought that Substitute Me would be a great movie. I know that movies with an African- American female lead (sans Madea) are few and far between. If it was picked up, would the screen writer change it to appeal to a “mainstream” audience? Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed was made into a movie. I enjoyed reading her book and the movie was okay. Substitute Me is of the same caliber if not better! I hope my prayers are answered. Come on Lionsgate or whomever it would take!

Now I am reading Tharps’ memoir, Kinky Gazpacho. A book jacket comment compares it to Under the Tuscan Sun and a blogger wrote that it was reminiscent of Eat,  Pray, Love. Years ago, I read her book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (with Ayana Byrd). Keep them coming, Ms. Tharps!

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