Such a Fun Age
This book is hard and heavy and also a total delight thanks to Reid's sparkling voice. She writes the kind of sentences you want to read out loud to the people nearby. They make you laugh out loud because so perfectly capture the moment, the feeling, the character. Sometimes what they do is perfectly skewer that character too. This is a coming-of-age story for right now. I personally think books that capture a moment in time generally age well and this one sure perfectly gets ours. Lena Waithe called it, "a unique, honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a black woman in America today." Here's what happens: on page one, we meet Emira, a twenty-five year old babysitter to a Philadelphia family. Emira loves babysitting but since she has a bachelor's degree from Temple and her friends are all getting "real jobs" and she ages off her parents' health insurance plan at her next birthday, she's sensitive about "still" babysitting. But she's devoted to the little girl she sits for; she loves her work. Emira gets a call from the family she sits for right at the beginning of the novel—the mother asks if Emira can rush over and get their daughter out of the house for a bit. Can Emira take her to the grocery? That's fine, but it's almost eleven p.m. so this is a little strange. But something has happened at the house. There's been minor vandalism; the police are going to come make a report and Mrs. Chamberlain does not want her daughter to be around for that. Emira's out with friends when she gets the call, but she adores her young charge and Mrs. Chamberlain offers to pay her double so she goes. This is important: Emira is black; the Chamberlains are white. Emira picks up the little girl and takes her down the road to the pricey grocery store. They're having a good time, checking out the merchandise, enjoying being out past bedtime, waiting until it's safe to go back home when the trouble begins. The supermarket security guard, seeing the black babysitter and white two-year old together thinks they don't belong together and he accuses Emira of kidnapping the toddler. It escalates quickly. A crowd gathers. A white bystander films the whole incident. Mr. Chamberlain rushes to the store to explain all is well. Later, Mrs. Chamberlain is determined to make things right, but Emira just wants to forget about it. But no one forgets about it because that is the first domino in a chain of events that was so surprising, so wholly unforeseeable by anyone that it changes the lives of everyone involved forever. This all happens in the first 20 pages and I don't want to say more, because whatever you're thinking right now, that is not the direction this story goes in. Something I loved about the book was the way it kept surprising me. I felt pleasantly off-balance as I tried to figure out who wanted what from whom, and why. Kiley Reid drops little narrative hints in the reader's lap along the way to let them know how the pieces connect, connections that the characters themselves can't see yet. If you're thinking Everything I Never Told You, that's what I'm talking about. When I read the first big hint I gasped out loud, literally. And I do not want you to miss that experience. From that setup, Reid tells the story of a young black woman struggling to come into her own. She's twenty five, but she doesn't feel like a grown-up and I appreciated her inner narrative on that question. Reid follows three main characters here, Emira, her employer, Mrs. Chamberlain, and another white man seven years older than Emira. This is fertile territory to explore what it means to be an adult, how our friends support us yet they also spur us to doubt ourselves, and of course, race and privilege. Reid's take is confident and complex and packaged as a page-turner. There's a lot of language and a little sex. I do think Reid chose her words with care (I hope that helps you decide). This would be an excellent pick for your book club because you will never run out of things to talk about here. If you love an insider peak into the book industry, don't miss Reid's acknowledgments. She's a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where lots of great literary fiction is produced, and she thanks friends and professors you will definitely recognize from your bookstore shelves. If you're interested, hear me talk more about this on our Patreon bonus feed. Readers, I thoroughly enjoyed Such a Fun Age, and will definitely be watching for whatever Reid writes next. Release date: December 31. (Now is the time to put in your library request or your preorder or request an ARC if you're so inclined.)
A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, 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 things 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.