SUBSTITUTE ME by Lori Tharps [Book 28 of 2010]

Oh, I’ve been a reading fool over the last few weeks, and therefore have a backlog of books to talk about over the next few weeks, starting off with SUBSTITUTE ME by fellow Smithie, Lori Tharps.

Why I Decided To Read It: Ya’ll know how I like to represent for my clique, so it will probably come as no surprise that I’ll read anything by a fellow Smith College grad. Also, my editor sent me the ARC, so score!

What It’s About: A smart white woman in her 30s hires a smart (but directionless) black woman in her 30s to be her nanny.

What Makes It Different: You know, I’ve read fiction from the working mother’s perspective and I’ve read fiction from the nanny’s perspective, but I can’t ever remember reading it from both perspectives with the husband’s POV thrown in. That made SUBSTITUTE ME particularly fascinating.

What I Loved: Oh, this book did a number on me. I talked about it with just about EVERYONE and I even got up at 6am a couple of days in a row, just so I could finish reading it. I loved that I had no idea what would happen next or how it would all turn out.

What I Didn’t Like: The featured baby is a complete angel, never interrupts, doesn’t throw temper tantrums, sits there quietly while the grown folks carry out their assorted dramas. As the mother of a completely opposite 14-month-old, this made me hiss.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Give Book Clubs Something To Talk About. I really, really want to talk about all the controversial ideas, situations, and plot points in this novel with someone. I’m sad that most of my mom friends haven’t read it yet, b/c I want to discuss what happened so bad. I also love that this novel sparked several conversations with my husband about parenthood and marriage. To a certain extent, I think that reading this book might actually make marriages stronger, in that it will get couples talking.

Give Us No One To Cheer For. As a sometimes frustrated write-at-home mom, I really wanted to identify with Kate, the working mother. But I couldn’t fully identify with her, b/c she held so many assumptions about race, class, and privilege that I did not. On the other hand, while I liked Zora, in many ways the nanny that’s better at mothering than you is every mother’s worst nightmare. I love that Ms. Tharps didn’t put her characters in good guy/bad guy cookie-cutter boxes.

The New Cautionary Tale. In many ways this book is a complex discussion about feminism and the concept of having it all. Essence Magazine described SUBSTITUTE ME as a horror novel, but I would actually describe it as a cautionary tale, one that makes you think and perhaps change your life accordingly. It also made me think about the thin lines between feminism, entitlement, selfishness, and resentment. This novel shook me to my very core. I think every working mother owes it to herself to read this book and think about the ideas within it.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: New Yorkers, Brooklynites, Working Moms, Nannies, Foodies, Black Women Who Travel, Starving Artists, Smithies.

Click on the cover pic to buy the book!


Featured Image Credit: chrisjohnbeckett