Such a Fun Age follows Emira, a 25 year old black woman who babysits a little girl called Briar. Briar's mother Alix (not Alex, never Alex!) calls Emira late one night to take Briar out for a while as they've just had an egg thrown at their house and Alix doesn't want Briar there when the police come.
The plot follows the aftermath of the ill-fated late night trip to a fancy grocery store, where a woman who doesn't know Emira or Briar asks a security guard to enquire about whether Emira has kidnapped Briar. A man who has watched the situation unfold, begins filming on his phone as Emira gets (rightfully) agitated and eventually calls Briar's father who comes down to the store and clears things up. The book then discusses the fall out from that night over the coming weeks.
As I read this book, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach, a sense of dread that something worse was going to happen. This mounting tension was a master stroke on the part of the author Kiley Reid. I found myself messaging some others who had read it to ask them if they felt it too and they all agreed the sense of foreboding was a key reason they enjoyed the book so much.
For some though, I think the tension could be too much, it was pretty anxiety inducing. A good friend of mine who I buddy read the book with, messaged me after I'd finished it as she was still reading, asking me to tell her what happened at the end so that she could read the rest without the sense of dread and fear.
I'm a white woman so I hesitate to say why the author wrote it the way she did, or used the phrases she did, but I wondered if that sense of dread was intentional, especially for white readers. Emira certainly felt mounting dread when approached by the security guard at the grocery store and that sense of dread is a commonly discussed theme among black people in America when confronted by authority figures who are not known for listening to minorities or POC.
I LOVED the way this book was written, I loved that it made me feel uncomfortable and squirmy with the white privilege I possess, I love the way it made me sit back and think about how hard it would have been for Emira to babysit a white child. The writing was masterful and Kiley Reid is one to watch.
Emira is a fantastic MC and the character of Alix is an intensely unlikable woman who is so ridiculously unaware of her privilege that it becomes sickening to read as she tries to "bond" with Emira, in an attempt to prove she's not racist. Alix's husband (whose name is irrelevant because Alix only thinks of him when he's directly present, or in one particularly memorable and cringe worthy scene, she's having sex with him in the upstairs bathroom before he goes to work) is an unnecessary character who is portrayed as a bumbling idiot despite a successful career as a TV anchor, briefly marred by an off the cuff but very racist remark made on live TV, but of course his career recovers because he's white and privileged.
Emira's friends are a great bunch of fun loving, creative but ambitious women who are carving out their place in the "adult world", Emira feels that they're leaving her behind as she struggles to find a "grown up" job that offers health insurance and full benefits. This conflict between Emira wanting to be seen as grown up while still partying with her friends is a wonderful inner conflict that I related to heavily.
Again, the atmosphere of tension and foreboding was particularly heavy, but it worked. This book worked for me because I felt the weight of my own white privilege and the weight of the fears Emira had and the consequences of one nosy woman in a grocery store who ultimately changed Emira's life. In addition to the heaviness of the situation in the grocery store, Emira's workplace seems fun loving and light on the surface but underneath, Alix's desire to be seen as progressive and non racist is a heavy burden for Emira who feels obligated to be non confrontational about it with her boss as she doesn't have another job lined up.
The not so good
The romance. It was gross and Kelley was Icky ™. I understood why he was there, to show that fetishising is just as bad as discriminating but man did it feel uncomfortable and just... no. Kelley does not pass the vibe check.
I LOVED this book so much, because it had me on edge and made me feel uncomfortable. It highlighted things that I take for granted that black women in America cannot take for granted. I, as a white Australian woman will never have to face the fear that someone will think I stole my friend's baby or that I shouldn't be in a particular grocery store or having to watch out for dropkicks like Kelley who would be dating me for the social clout and because they have an idealised idea of who I could be if only I listened to their wisdom on how to improve myself.
Read Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. This is a debut novel and it's abundantly clear that Kiley Reid's voice is a powerhouse and she has so much to say. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.