This is one of my new favorites, y’all. This book reminds me of Gone Girl in the way that it’s impossible to put down and it has so many good twists, but it’s even better. The social commentary in Such a Fun Age is brilliant, and it exposes an aspect of the way that black people and white people in the U.S. interact that I had never thought about before. It’s funny, it’s engaging, and it even makes the villain(s) relatable. This is Kiley Reid’s first book and she really came out with a bang. I hope you all go support her and check out this book!
Such a Fun Age is the story of Emira Tucker and Alix Chamberlain. Emira is Alix’s babysitter, and beyond Alix’s daughter Briar, they really have nothing in common. Emira is a black girl in her mid-20s who’s struggling to make ends meet, and Alix is a wealthy white woman who’s just moved to Philadelphia from the Upper West Side. The book explores how they interact with each other and the world around them.
Length: 305 pages
Additional Sections: None
Year Published: 2020
The Good Stuff
There are so many good things about Such a Fun Age. The major themes are new, which is so refreshing; it’s always nice to read about what a new author chooses to point out about the world we live in. I could not put it down and my mind was opened to topics that I didn’t realize needed further discussion.
One of the biggest themes in this book is white people’s obsession with black people. It’s palpable in the first big thing that happens in the book. Emira has to pick up Briar on short notice in the middle of the night (in full girls’ night out gear) and takes her to a local high-end grocery store to kill time. While Emira is doing her job and minding her business, a white woman at the store calls security on her and accuses her of stealing Briar! Can you believe this woman? They proceed to berate her and ask Briar repeatedly if she knows who Emira is. I felt her humiliation and I understood her defensiveness, especially because they had no reason to think she kidnapped Briar. For whatever reason, some white people just can’t fathom why black people are thriving in their spaces, and it upsets them to the point where they will try anything to get us out. At the end of this terrible night, Emira meets her future boyfriend, Kelley, who was recording the entire exchange and emails it to Emira. Their relationship – and the one she has with Alix – sheds light on a whole different kind of white obsession.
Emira is caught between two people throughout the book: her boss, Alix, and her boyfriend, Kelley. This was the perfect way to show how white men and women develop a vested (and somewhat creepy) interest in black women. We all know or have seen someone like Kelley before – only dates black women, has all black friends, and probably has #BlackLivesMatter in his Twitter bio. He’s from a SUPER white area, so this man has clearly gone out of his way to be around black people. For Kelley, it’s a desire to seem cool and to be “invited to the cookout.” Side note: Can we please stop inviting white people to these imaginary cookouts, guys? Knowing all the lyrics to Drake’s albums and dating a bunch of biracial girls doesn’t make someone an ally. I think this form of fetishization is common among younger white people, and it was so refreshing to read the author’s interpretation of how some black people get caught in the crossfire of keeping up appearances.
Alix’s obsession is much more peculiar to me because it’s less obvious and it’s more in her head. The more Emira pulls away from Alix, the more obsessed with her she is. Emira minds her business and does her job (excellently, by the way), and Alix begins reading her text messages, offering her wine and groceries to take home, and trying to get Emira to spend “quality time” with her. It’s weird. If I were Emira, I would’ve been so freaked out because I was told to avoid getting drunk around my white coworkers or telling them too much of my business when I started my first grown-up job. About half of the book is told from Alix’s perspective, so we see her fixation on Emira first-hand. To me, this showed how white women want to know so much about us and want to be friends with us so bad, but the second we act out of turn it’s a completely different story – you’ll see what I mean when you read it.
I liked that Reid took the time to highlight the infamous quarter-life crisis. Emira is a part-time babysitter and a part-time typist with no benefits from either job. Meanwhile her friends all live in nice apartments and either have great jobs or are pursuing post-graduate degrees. She feels like she doesn’t measure up because she holds the group back from doing more fun activities and going on vacations. It’s mentioned several times that she doesn’t have any social media, and I appreciated that she could still feel the way she does even without the sea of accomplishments that’s posted on Instagram every day. Feeling like you’re falling behind isn’t a new thing that started with social media; it’s been happening for decades and it plagues so many people in their 20s. I’m 24 and I related to her. It’s frustrating, and it’s good to see it normalized.
It’s evident from very early in the story that Alix has a favorite child. She’s constantly pushing three-year-old Briar onto Emira while she won’t let her younger daughter Catherine out of her sight (for the most part). I couldn’t tell if Alix didn’t like Briar because she was so inquisitive and never stopped talking, or if it was more about her love for Catherine because she looked just like her, but her preference was clear. Motherhood is sold to women as this magical thing that changes your life for the better 100% of the time, but not everyone feels that way. Alix had a booming career before she got pregnant, and she had to slow things down and leave her favorite city to take care of her growing family. I’m not a mother yet, but I think it’s good to show all the different ways that women experience becoming a mother, so I liked how Reid portrayed Alix as a mom.
The writing in this book is impeccable. It reminds me of Americanah in the way that all the dialogue in this book is useful. None of it is filler, and its purpose is distinct. I liked how Reid worked in a way to show the other side of virality and what it’s like to be the person in the video that gets circulated around the Internet. I hope that people who read this think twice about making light of situations that are often very scary for other people – I know I will. Good grammar makes a big difference, people! Excellent writing and strong editing bump a good book up to a new classic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a national hit for how good it is. Kiley, if this becomes a limited series and you need someone to play Emira, hit me up!
What I Would Change
Nothing. This book is excellent! Go support it so we can get some more good work from Kiley Reid! This is her first book, and I’m so excited to see what else she does in the future.
Overall Rating: 10/10