From Publishers Weekly
Memoirist Tharps's debut novel contrasts the lives of two polar-opposite women living in New York City with likable characters but common prose. Kate Carter is successful, white, and married. She hires Zora Anderson, a 30-year-old black woman, to nanny her infant son Oliver. While both women are from privileged backgrounds, their lives have taken divergent paths. Zora is still trying to figure out what to do with her life, and uncertainty over her nanny position, especially in light of her successful corporate-lawyer brother, wealthy parents, and awareness of "mammy" stereotypes, cause her great uncertainty. Kate's husband, Brad, becomes Zora's friend and confidante, encouraging her to pursue her passion for cooking and reconnect with her family. As Kate becomes busier at work, Zora and Brad grow inevitably more attracted to one another. This unsurprising turn is the book's major downfall, but the issues of race and relationships that Tharps extracts from the situation largely make up for it. While Tharps's prose leaves something to be desired, the reader is left to ruminate on some real questions concerning the modern family, and can draw on authentic characters to put a face on an otherwise abstract predicament. (Aug.)
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Where is the source of our identities? Our upbringing, occupation, partners? Kate, a driven public-relations exec and mom coming off maternity leave, tells Zora, while interviewing her for a nanny post, that she wants to hire a “substitute me.” Zora, an upper-middle-class African American, wants the job but worries about betraying the dreams of the women who came before her by becoming a domestic. She then finds her passion in cooking, and practices to become a personal chef by feeding the family as part of her duties. Brad, Kate’s egalitarian banker husband, feels uncomfortable making so much money in the pre-meltdown days. Kate misses her son but throws herself wholeheartedly into her work, putting in exceptionally long days. Brad accepts all these household changes, and finds himself spending more time with Zora than Kate. Friends, lovers, co-workers, and family—all armed with opinions and attitudes—play key roles in Tharps’ lively modern domestic drama about why we are who we are. The somewhat predictable ending in no way overshadows the appealing, realistic characters or Tharps’ deep social insights. --Danise Hoover