Recently, I read “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid, and between all its ironies and intricacies, this novel was truly a joy to read.
The story follows Emira, a young Black woman in her mid-20s, who is a part-time babysitter and typist. The woman whom she babysits for, Alix, is a rich, white feminist blogger who has built her brand around being both a successful businesswoman and mother.
But things get complicated when Alix tasks Emira with picking up her eldest daughter, Briar, from their house due to a family emergency. When Emira takes Briar to a nearby grocery store, she's confronted by a security guard and accused of kidnapping the 2-year-old, a fabrication that the guard conjured up due to the racial stigma around a Black woman being seen with a white child.
From there, the novel explores the complexities of race, class, love and adulthood. Guilt-ridden about the incident, Alix worries that Emira will want to sue. And although Emira ultimately chooses not to take legal action and continues working for Alix's family, Alix begins to bombard her with benevolence, small talk and invites to family dinners.
To add to the mix, Emira starts seeing Kelley, a guy who filmed the grocery store incident and then proceeded to court her. The tall, handsome, seemingly innocent man is coincidentally connected to Alix’s story, making the whole state of affairs rather amusing.
Traces of self-preservation, growing maturity and love are evident in all of the characters, some more than others. Reid manages to deliver a comical, blunt account of two women who are joined by circumstance rather than will. The author’s agency over her story and understanding of the characters is evident in her prose, especially in Emira’s dialogue.
Unlike her friends, Emira doesn’t have a clear-cut path in life nor health insurance and is struggling to make ends meet. But, rather than delving into our protagonists' shortcomings, Reid highlights Emira's innate skill with children, quick wit, protectiveness and commitment to her needs.
To me, she grows the most out of any character and learns to live and define her life on her own terms. The way Reid challenges inherent notions of maturity and adulthood will resonate with many readers.
The author also gives the young Briar dimension, as seen through Emira’s eyes. Briar is somewhat of an outcast, an energetic chatter and deeply emphatic, and Emira understands Briar on a level her mother can’t or chooses not to. Their connection is beautiful, heartfelt and just as meaningful to the toddler as it is to her babysitter.
Alix is as complex as it gets. She strives to be it all: a loving wife, mother to her two daughters, friend, and employer, but her intentions don’t always match with her actions.
She almost feels responsible for Emira and her wellbeing, which turns into an obsession and demonstrates her need to prove herself as a caring "ally" to her Black babysitter.
Reid also taps into her friendships, motherhood, career and affluent past to paint the full picture of why Alix is the way she is.
“Such a Fun Age” lays out the disparities between race and class in a subtle, endearing way that makes readers check their own privilege and behaviors. For a debut novel, this is an impressive start for Reid.
It's unsparingly human and riddled with hypocrisy, assessing the transactional relationship between a white woman and her Black babysitter and dares to journey through the gray areas of right and wrong, where the lines don’t always neatly intersect.
The novel is a light read with detailed observations. As a visual reader, I was able to picture scene after scene, the position and demeanor of the characters and the spaces they occupied.
Reid embeds larger themes into a coming-of-age story everyone can relate to in one way or another. If you want to be enlightened, charmed and intrigued, don’t hesitate to get your hands on this one of a kind novel.