Title: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
Date published: 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Disclaimer: I was kindly sent a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review from Jonathan Ball Publishers in South Africa.
This was a very unexpected novel. Not so much in terms of what I had created in my own head, but rather how its been portrayed in the book community. In my limited knowledge of the book beforehand I was unprepared for a story that was not so much about the particular racial incident that occurs in the beginning, but rather a story about the world we live in today and what that means. It is also very much a story about a twenty-five year old woman quite content with her life despite everyone else’s opinion that she shouldn’t be.
Such a Fun Age is set in today’s world of Instagram posts, the Black Lives Matter movement and the world’s obsession with documenting everything. Emira Tucker, our protagonist who is a twenty-five year old woman without any social media to her name, works as an occasional babysitter for Alix Chamberlain a feminist blogger who inspires women to write letters to get what they want. Emira takes care of Alix’s eldest Briar, no more than three times a week, and works as a typist for the Green Party the rest of the week. She has three really close friends Shaunie, Zara and Josefa who are all doing relatively successful things with their lives which involve careers and decent apartments. Despite her two jobs Emira is almost always broke, and so when Alix calls her to mind Briar out of the blue one night when Emira is out at a club with her friends she jumps at the chance. That night an angry protester threw an egg through the Chamberlain’s window to protest against a segment her husband Peter had done on the news in which he made a derogatory comment about a person of color. The egg broke the window, and as they had called the police and didn’t want Briar to be upset they called Emira and asked her to take their three year old daughter to the closest grocery store to keep her occupied. At the store a customer and a security guard accuse Emira of kidnapping Briar. A man named Kelley Coupland witnesses this incident and offers to help Emira. At this stage in my review it is perhaps necessary to mention that Emira is black, and the Chamberlain’s and Kelley are white.
Days later and Emira wants to forget the incident ever happened despite Alix insisting that they will help Emira in any way even if that includes legal action against the store. Emira just wants to forget it and continue taking care of Briar whom she adores. Emira may seem content with the status quo, and therefore without ambition according to everyone else, but it is only when she is having inane conversations with this particular toddler does she seem to be at her happiest.
The incident at the grocery store has altered the relationship between Alix and Emira. Alex, who was once Alex Murphy (she changed her name after a bullying incident back in high school), starts to see Emira’s role in her life very differently and becomes more and more fascinated with her babysitter’s social life, and essentially her life outside of the Chamberlain’s ordered world. When Emira starts dating someone new she starts becoming even more entangled when it comes to light that the two women have something very disturbing in common. Her own friends Rachel, Jodi and Tamra – the ultimate ‘mom squad’ are a delightful distraction from her life in Philadelphia, as they represent a clearly more glamorous past life in New York. It is clear that Alix is obsessed with her past, and essentially creating a personae she deems fit for the rest of the world to see.
This is not simply a story about a young black woman and her white employer. It is so much more than a conversation about racial profiling and assumptions and the conversations we have with one another without being aware that we are even having them. It is definitely about these things but it is also about the assumptions we make about one another everyday regardless of color and/or economic situation. This novel also brings up racial fetishization, the role of technology in our modern lives and the choices the privileged make everyday to either take care of themselves or to take care of those around them. In so many ways this novel is about choice, and it is also interesting to note that (in my humble opinion) the most likeable character is Briar who has not been tainted by a past, who doesn’t sit in judgement of what she does not know and whose life is simply what it is right in front of her, because at three years old she doesn’t really have the ability to ‘choose’ any other way of being.
Kiley Reid is a phenomenal writer, and I applaud this debut novel as another fantastic literary example of a conversation that the whole world should be having every day.