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Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

Tharps’ ‘Substitute Me’ Examines Race, Motherhood

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Lori L. Tharps’ Substitute Me follows a story line that appears innocent enough at first: Kate and Brad Carter, a young, 30-something husband and wife living in New York City, hire a full-time nanny to watch their son while they are at work. But this seemingly light domestic drama is filled with candid, dark commentary on race, gender and class. This is the story of two very different women: Zora, a 30-year-old African-American female who decides to take a job as a nanny for a white married couple with a 6-month-old infant, and Kate, a career woman whose recent venture into motherhood cannot keep her from the office, leading her to hire a child-care provider to “substitute” her place in the household. As each woman struggles through real-life concerns and tensions, Tharps explores how women who want it all may find out that “having it all” comes with some unintended consequence.

Interactions among Zora, Kate and Brad form the heart of the novel. Each one of them believes that they are progressive Americans thriving in a diverse society; however, we quickly learn that navigating the tricky waters of sexual tension, race relations, and modern child-rearing is not as easy as anticipated. Readers see the world through the eyes of Zora, a young black woman who struggles to figure out her career and future in a society where she often feels inferior, and Kate, the successful executive and married mother who seems to find a way to balance a meaningful career and family life. The women speak with authentic voices that expose readers to their most intimate feelings, creating a thought-provoking commentary on modern womanhood and interracial relationships.

Substitute Me
is a warm, engaging novel featuring realistic characters attempting to learn who they are and where they fit in today’s world.

Tharps, an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University and the author of the critically acclaimed Hair Story, is a Milwaukee native. She returns home for a reading of Substitute Me at Boswell Book Co. on Nov. 26 at 7 p.m.