Kiley Reid kicks off our year strongly with her winsome and thought-provoking debut novel, Such a Fun Age. Emira Tucker, a black twenty-five-year-old who lives in Philadelphia and recently graduated from Temple, babysits for a white, affluent married couple—Alix Chamberlain, lifestyle guru and blogger, and her husband Peter, a news anchor who becomes embroiled in a racist gaffe (“Let’s hope that last one asked her father first,” he remarks while reporting about a black boy inviting a white girl to prom). When Emira takes their toddler Briar to a high-end grocery store late one night, a security guard wrongly accuses her of kidnapping, and she ends up having to call Peter for help (she says he’s “an old white guy, so I’m sure everyone will feel better”).
The novel’s narrative alternates between Emira and Alix as the confrontation’s fallout advances the relationship between babysitter and mother into complex, fragile, and racially-tinged territory. Emira is coping with the impending loss of her health insurance, paying the rent, and misgivings over the irresolute future that her professional/personal life is heading towards. Alix, dealing with the backlash concerning her husband’s racist flub, overeagerly—almost obsessively—endeavors to cultivate a friendship with Emira, a goal that speaks to her white guilt and her wish to feel woke.
This occurs alongside Emira dating Kelley, a white man who was a witness of the grocery store confrontation and recorded it on his phone. We learn that his social life, both in his romantic relationships and his circle of friends, consists almost entirely of black people, very nearly to the point of fetishization. Both he and Alix are much more attentive to the topic of race—and yet continue treating it with ignorance and idealism—than Emira, who is merely concerned with finding some semblance of purpose and drive in her mid-twenties life.
Abounding with humor and clever dialogue, Such a Fun Age is as much an incisive examination of race, privilege, and class as it is a touching, sensitive tale that tackles themes like love and motherhood. This is a wonderful read that should get us all anticipating Reid’s next work.
Windup score: 96/100