Such A Fun Age starts out feeling like a light, breezy story but it presents a complex, layered scenario that focuses on race and privilege.
Emira Tucker is 25 years old. She is a college educated, black girl who is not sure where her life is going. Soon she will have to get off her parents’ insurance plan and she worries her part time babysitting job barely pays the bills. She enjoys taking care of 2 year old Briar Chamberlain, but is constantly reminded by her friends that helping to raise this cute little white girl is not a career.
Peter and Alix Chamberlain, Briar’s parents, need Emira because they both spend a lot of time working. Peter is in the TV business in Philadelphia and Alix is a blogger and social media influencer. Alix is very focused on staying current and appearing to be politically correct; she has little patience for her 2 year old’s questions and is not too interested in spending time teaching and entertaining her.
One evening, Emira was called away from a party to look after Briar. Someone had thrown an egg at the Chamberlain house and broke a window, and the Chamberlain’s didn’t want Briar at home when the police arrived. Emira took the little girl to a nearby grocery store for an activity and they had a dance party in the aisle to pass the time. Someone in the store became suspicious, and was concerned that this black woman was with a small white child so late at night, and reported them to the authorities. In a confusing and unnecessary turn of events, Emira was accused of kidnapping Briar and the security guard retained them at the store until Mr. Chamberlain came to pick them up. The entire incident was recorded by a bystander and Emira was mortified.
After the grocery store incident, Alix Chamberlain vows to get to know Emira better and help her. Around the same time, Emira, starts dating a new, white guy, Kelley Copeland, who believes Emira should release the video recording of the grocery store incident to the public. Emira questions both their motives and is struggling to find direction. Although Alix and Kelley both seem to be supportive of Emira, things get complicated when their prior connection to each other is revealed, and they accuse one another of being racist.
The kidnapping accusation and the white employer/black employee relationship have given author, Kiley Reid, the opportunity to address racial profiling, class distinctions, wealth, privilege and equality within the storyline of Such A Fun Age, and between her characters. I love how the title, Such A Fun Age, can apply to Emira and her time to make adult decisions, Briar and her childhood, and the book’s timeframe (2015-2016) where feminism and activism are all the rage and social media has incredible influence.
Reid presents her characters to us but does not tell us what to think, and we are forced to ask questions like, what is Alix’s motivation when it comes to caring so much about getting to know Emira, and how does race and privilege factor in. Why does Kelley want Emira to release the recording? To prove how not racist he is? Does he truly understand Emira’s challenges? Can people who are well intentioned and claim to be anti racist, actually be racist?
Despite me feeling a little less enthusiastic midway through this debut due to the characters’ somewhat superfluous interactions, Kiley Reid has written a story with refreshing wit and humor, that encourages discussion of important issues of today. Such A Fun Age, is a fast paced novel on the surface, with racial issues and complex relationships underneath. It kept me engaged for the most part as I breezed through. Definitely worthy of a book club pick.
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About the Author:
Kiley Reid is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Such A Fun Age is her first novel.