October 22, 2010

Faithful To The Hand That Feeds

“Substitute Me. Looking for a nanny who will take care of my six-month-old baby as if he were her own. Five full days a week. No cooking or cleaning required. Must love children and be prepared to show it. References required.”

A thirty-year-old, single, African American woman named Zora returns from Paris and decides to apply to the newspaper ad above. After a thorough interview, she is hired as a nanny for a white married couple (Brad & Kate). 

It isn’t long before Zora takes on the role of a housewife and really becomes a substitute Kate. She does laundry, cleans, and is their very own personal chef. Meanwhile, Brad is planning to invest in his passion and Kate is oblivious to the consequences that her long hours of work cause. Is a job promotion really worth spending so much time away from home?

The chapters alternate between Zora and Kate’s point-of-view. Later on in the novel, Brad narrates two chapters. This style gives readers a closer look at the characters and their thoughts.

This isn’t the normal husband-leaves-wife-for-young-nanny novel. It starts off slow, but eventually takes off running in a new direction. It is layered with topics that really made me think. For example, Kate constantly makes references to Zora’s dreadlocks, thick frame, gap in her teeth, and level of college education. Kate can’t seem to understand why anyone would find her nanny attractive. Frankly, I was offended by some of her comments. Is this how we as African American women are perceived by other races?

Substitute Me is a good selection for book clubs or a leisure weekend read. I suggest discussing it over a cultural dish similar to what Zora might have made. It will make for a great discussion about juggling motherhood and a profession, cultural differences, nannies, marriage, and trust. Lori Tharps did an excellent job building a cliché story and adding her own twist.

Literary Marie's Rating: ♥♥♥