Substitute Me

Substitute Me

Zora Anderson is a 30-year-old African American middle class, college educated woman, trained as a chef, looking for a job. As fate would have it, Kate and Craig, a married couple, aspiring professionals with a young child are looking for a nanny.

Zora seems perfect. She’s an enthusiastic caretaker, a competent house keeper, a great cook. And she wants the job, despite the fact that she won’t let her African American parents and brother know anything about this new career move. They expect much more from her than to use all that good education to do what so many Blacks have dreamed of not doing: working for White folks. Working as an au pair in Paris, France no less, was one thing, they could accept that. Being a servant to a couple not much older nor more educated, is yet another. Every adult character involved in this tangled web is hiding something: the husband is hiding his desire to turn a passion for comic books into a business from his wife, the wife is hiding her professional ambitions from her husband, the nanny is hiding her job from her family and maybe her motivations for staying on her job from herself.

Memorable characters, real-life tensions and concerns and the charming—in a hip kind of way—modern-day Park Slope, Fort Greene, Brooklyn setting make for an un-put-down-able read.
  • Atria Books | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439171110 | 
  • August 2010
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Substitute Me includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lori L. Tharps. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Questions for Discussion

1. While waiting for the bus on her first day as a nanny, Zora recalls that both of the families she worked for in Paris were White, so “why was she playing the race card now . . . [she tried] to recall a time when she’d ever been more hyperaware of being Black in a White world” (page 46). Why does Zora feel this way now when she didn’t previously? What circumstances have changed?

2. If Zora is so concerned with what her family and friends think about her becoming a nanny, why does she accept the Carters’ job offer?

3. “As the words tumbled out of her mouth, Kate wasn’t sure where they came from. It was like there was a script in her head and she was just reading the words” (page 57). Besides, when she’s explaining that she’s ready to return to work, are there other examples of Kate saying or doing things she thinks are “right” but are not necessarily how she feels? Can other characters relate?

4. Why does Brad initially maintain a dis see more

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About the Author

Lori L. Tharps
Photo Credit:

Lori L. Tharps

Lori L. Tharps is the author of Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain, named by as one of their top ten books for 2008, and the co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. She is an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, where she makes her home with her husband and family. She doesn’t have a nanny.