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Such a fun read

Kiley Reid’s debut novel about white privilege dares us to examine our inherent racism

Stock image of a female toddler in a garden
Such a fun age book cover

Title

Such a Fun Age

Author(s)

Kiley Reid

Genre

Romance | Women’s Fiction

Internal conflict runs rampant in Kiley Reid’s debut novel. Of course, what would a good read be without conflict? Central to all this white privilege-induced action is Briar, a sensitive, intuitive, and quirky toddler, Emira, Briar’s Black part-time caregiver, and Alix, Emira’s employer and Briar’s mother. The narrative unravels quickly when Alix asks Emira to take Briar off their hands for a few hours while she, Alix, and her husband resolve a bit of vandalism (that is seemingly irrelevant) at their lavish home with the police. Emira leaves a party dressed in a short skirt and heels to pick up Briar and take her to a nearby posh organic grocery store.

While Emira and Briar pass the time at the store, waiting for Alix’s okay to return home, they raise the suspicions of another shopper that Briar might be the victim of a kidnapping and are confronted by a security guard. Another shopper, Kelley, a seemingly well-meaning white man, records the clash with his phone. His insistence that she go public with the video later turns this novel into a high-stakes poker game of innuendo, lies, and misdirection.

Told in third person narration, the author does an excellent job getting into Alix’s and Emira’s heads for the reader. She takes a no-holds-barred approach to telling this story in that neither of her main characters, Emira or Alix, is particularly hero-esque or has much redeeming quality. They both seem stuck in ruts when Alix finds Emira through an online nanny agency.

Emira, almost 26, holds a bachelor’s degree, yet she is indifferent to a specific career path. Also, Emira has a few months until she ages out of her parent’s insurance plan. Finding stable employment should be her goal, but Emira is a perpetual feet-dragger. Meanwhile, her friends, who enjoy successful careers, encourage her to find a better job. However, Emira is hampered by her lack of enthusiasm to do anything other than care for Briar.

Alix, a privileged white woman who starts a lucrative career in New York City writing to companies asking for free stuff, experiences a lull in her enthusiasm for her career when she moves her family to Philadelphia (where she’s originally from) for her husband’s news anchoring career. In Philadelphia, Alix is writing a book about her business success, for which she’s received a hefty advance, so she hires Emira to entertain her toddler for a few hours while she’s supposedly writing. Like Emira, Alix surrounds herself with like-minded friends who encourage her. But neither Alix nor Emira wants to move their career needle forward.

The novel gets complicated when Kelley, the white man who records the video of Emira being accused of kidnapping Briar, is tossed into the pleasant salad of employer and employee accouterments. This is the secret sauce: the Kelley factor. Kelley is a cool guy in his 30s, living an adult life with adult things in his apartment. Emira is impressed with this slightly older white man. But she never asks the hard questions: who is this guy, and why does he surround himself with only Black friends? This is what her friends are asking.

Reid pits these character tropes against each other, and it’s riveting. No one is particularly innocent, particularly evil, yet they strike a chord. These people are us. Alix is portrayed as a woman who wants to be woke, or at least she wants to seem woke. Kelley knows he’s woke and takes every opportunity to flaunt his wokeness. Emira is neither here nor there. And that’s the genius behind this antihero. She’s only looking out for Briar, Alix’s older daughter. The one who needs handling, the one who challenges her. Emira sees this and wants to protect Briar from her mother’s neglect. And I don’t blame her. The character who spoke to me the most was Briar. The relationship between Emira and Briar is quite enchanting.

This novel goes beyond racism, classism, and privilege. It’s also a social commentary on wokeness, how we judge others, and how we want to be judged. Alix’s actions made me gasp, not because I was appalled at them but because I recognized them. It delivers the premise that racism and privilege are things we can’t necessarily control because they’re systemic and, in some cases, inherent. And as I laughed at some of the situations Reid writes for Alix, I grimaced at myself in my own wokeness. I can’t claim to understand someone else’s lived experiences if I haven’t lived them. I can only listen and then try to empathize.

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About the author(s).

Kiley Reid is the author of Such A Fun Age, a New York Times Best Seller longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Playboy, and The Guardian. She’s also the author of Come and Get It and Simplexity. Reid is currently an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.

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