Book Review: Such A Fun Age

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Kiley Reid’s debut novel, “Such A Fun Age”, is an ambitious, funny, yet compassionate novel that explores race, class, and white privilege. Everything about the novel is fresh that while themes about race and privilege are social issues that when explored in fiction usually exude a downright heavy atmosphere, Reid’s book is light and subtle yet an eye-opener like no other. 

Here is Emira, a young black woman who receives a late-night call from her white employer, Alix Chamberlain,  asking her to take her daughter, Briar, to the grocery store while Alix tends to a domestic situation. Emira, of course, said yes though she was having a wonderful time celebrating her friend’s birthday, she decided she could really use the cash.  What was supposed to be a night of earning extra for herself, Emira got into a familiar situation for a person of color in a majority-white neighborhood grocery store. Accused of kidnapping three-year-old Briar, Emira was nearly taken into police custody had it not been for Briar’s father who rushed to the grocery store to clear Emira of the accusation.  What Emira soon realizes is how the incident greatly affected her employer, Alix, in ways Emira finds overbearing. 

This book stabs at privileges that come with being “white.” It explores a contemporary version of the “white man’s burden” (the supposed obligation of white colonizers to manage the affairs of their non-white colonial subjects) disguised as a narcissistic obsession.  This burden comes with the persuasions concerning what white people can offer to black people so white people can be seen as sympathetic to their plight. Similarly, it also delves on the psychology that exposure to blackness is quarantining white people from behaviors that could judge them as racist.  Take, for example, Kelley Copeland’s character who enjoys the company of black friends and prefers to date women of color. Emira has struggled to draw the line if Kelley’s obsession with black people is sincere or if he does so as a means of purgation. It is hard not to feel the seeming tug-of-war tension between Emira and Kelley. While Kelley pushes Emira to stand her ground, she argues that Kelley is no better, that his argument against Alix applies to him as well. 

Alix’s character is Reid’s antagonist but she does so in a way that Alix seems to be devoid of any knowledge of her self-serving motivation.  All Alix sees is her need to protect her babysitter at all costs founded on what could only be described as a deep sense of ownership toward Emira.  Moreso, Alix wanted what she thought was best for her babysitter by being over-protective but in so doing, Alix’s overcompensation defense makes her blind to what Emira truly wants; to what she truly needs like health insurance and a full-time job so she can pay her rent.  The dynamics between Alix and Emira as they explore their differences–entitlement vs the lack of it–is the heart and core of this novel.  

While there are other themes explored in the novel, what strikes me the most is Reid’s use of irony as a literary device.  Whereas Alix and Kelley are both obsessed at protecting Emira from prejudice and discrimination; their incessant justification as to why she should defend her being black, she only concerns herself with issues like health insurance and rent payment. If anything, “Such A Fun Age” is a fun novel all the while exposing the duplicity of overcompensation making it hard for people of color to understand the true intentions of white liberals.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Kiley Reid

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: December 31st 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN-10: 052554190X

ISBN-13: 9780525541905

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