In light of Such A Fun Age’s paperback release, I was delighted to select this intelligent, timely and outstanding novel as NB’s January recommendation. I loved Kiley Reid’s debut so much I bought my Mum a copy for Christmas – I should add that I only buy the best books for my Mum, so this really is high praise indeed! – which she finished in a few days, and adored just as much as I did. If you are curious to know what all the fuss is about, read on…
Everyone should read this book.
White writer, blogger and next-level-narcissist Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, one night – after her house is vandalised – to ask her to take her young daughter Briar to the local market for distraction. In desperate need of some extra cash, Emira leaves her friends birthday party to come and help Alix. At the local supermarket, Emira sings and dances to entertain young Briar:
“For a moment, twenty-five-year-old Emira was being paid thirty-two dollars an hour to dance in a grocery store with her best friend and her favourite little human” …
But Emira’s moment of joy (she genuinely loves little Briar) is short-lived. Out of nowhere, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, despite Emira explaining – very clearly – that she is babysitting. The accusation made against Emira is evidently an act of racial prejudice. The encounter is filmed by bystander, Kelly, and it is this event (and video) which will come to define Emira and Alix’s lives.
The narration felt so light-hearted and funny, that it is only on later reflection that I recognize Reid’s skill in weaving so many serious, dark themes into this novel, related to racism, class and motherhood. In Alix’s obsession with her babysitter, Reid exposes the way in which black women are often fetishized; a form of racial bias which is typically far more difficult to identify and confront than other more obvious forms of racism. Alix as a character is in many ways a unsettling embodiment of ‘white privilege’, and her blindness to this fact is even more alarming.
In Such a Fun Age, Reid dissects the feeling of angst, inadequacy and guilt which many young women – specifically young, educated women – face at a certain point in their lives. As her friends begin to settle, to excel in their careers and to move into bigger and grander apartments, Emira cannot help but feel a little excluded, and left behind; her own life lacks any clear direction or aim. Despite enjoying the babysitting job, and despite the importance of the work, Emira has some strange guilt attached to her position, feeling as though it is not a ‘real job’. Here, Reid shows how complex and challenging working in care can be, particularly when you are a black woman taking care of white children in the US. She also explores what is commonly known as ‘the quarterlife crisis’, exposing the complex ways in which gender, class and of course race feed into this phase of turmoil.
Each of Reid’s characters are richly painted and flawed, and the dialogue between them feels authentic. Whilst reading this fast-paced, absorbing novel, I kept thinking that this would make a fantastic adaptation for the big screen. It was unsurprising to read that the rights have already been acquired!
My one critique of this novel is that the plot depends upon one major coincidence – specifically, one chance meeting – in order to function. However, I think the same thing could be said for many novels, and with such engaging characters and enjoyable prose, it’s easy to move past this minor ‘flaw’.
There is so much for book clubs and individual readers to enjoy and reflect upon in this thoughtful, provocative, and entertaining book. I can’t wait to see what Reid comes up with next – and, of course to see whether the upcoming screen adaptation matches up to the novel.
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (Audible Audiobook 07 January 2020)