Book: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
As part of my pledge to read more books from diverse authors, I picked up Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I had seen it on more than one book list while I was trying to build my own. That, and the title which sounded light and happy, lead me to pick this one. Although the book wasn’t exactly light and happy, it wasn’t heavy either, it took me by surprise.
Such a Fun Age tells the story….
….of Emira – a black twenty-five-year-old, aimless and unambitious, yet to find her calling in life. In the meanwhile, she holds two part-time jobs, one of which is that of a baby-sitter for Alix Chamberlain’s three-year-old daughter Briar.
One evening while Emira is at the supermarket with Briar, a security guard detains her suspecting her of having kidnapped the child. A panicked Emira calls Briar’s father even as a man, Kelly, videotapes the incident.
The episode shakes up Alix who decides that she needs to take a greater interest in Emira’s life. Her stilted attempts at starting up a conversation puzzle Emira who has no need for this friendship. All she cares for is Briar, who she has a real and deep affection for.
Alix’s interest gradually grows into something bordering on a crush as she constantly tries to talk to Emira, gifts her expensive wine, tries to decode her interest in music, and looks through her phone when she isn’t around.
Things come to a head when Alix crosses all boundaries to ‘manage’ Emira’s life.
Such a Fun Age is hard to review, not because it doesn’t have much to say but because it evokes too many thoughts and you just want to talk about it rather than analyse it objectively. Which is why this will be more of a book discussion than a book review.
Bear with me, please.
We get to read the book through two perspectives, Emira’s and Alix’s
The difference between the two women couldn’t have been more stark and it’s not just about them being black or white. While Alix is a social media influencer, Emira doesn’t even have social media accounts. Alix is wealthy while Emira worries about her insurance. Reid brings out the difference beautifully, almost as if there can be no meeting point between the two.
That’s what it is at the beginning of the book.
Emira is as dismissive of Alix as Alix is of her. If anything, she doesn’t quite like her because Alix seems to prefer only her younger, calmer daughter while Emira’s ‘favourite human being’ is Briar, the older one precocious and talkative as she is.
While Alix changes after the supermarket incident, Emira doesn’t. On the contrary, she tries to pull away further because she doesn’t see babysitting as a permanent position. That is frustrating for Alix who is desperate to befriend her.
Also thrown into the mix, is Alix’s rather complicated childhood
When Alix was young, her family comes into a sudden inheritance and her parents go on a spending spree, to her acute embarrassment. Over the years, she learns to be comfortable with her wealth to the extent that she begins to take it, as well as the privilege that comes with it, for granted. Also, she turns into a bit of a snob. Of course all of this, without being aware of it.
When she sets about befriending Emira she starts looking at herself from Emira’s perspective and perhaps, on some subconscious level, the discomfort with her privilege returns, even while at a conscious level she remains unaware of it. With that, returns the embarrassment of her wealth. She takes great pains to convince Emira that she doesn’t splurge, that she’s a thrifty shopper, not that Emira is bothered at all.
Reid’s writing brings out all of that without actually mentioning any of it. That is exactly what good writing is. The undertones, the conscious and sub conscious motivations are all there for the reader to pick up on.
I have to talk about the incident at the supermarket
The reactions of the various characters to the incident took me by surprise. Emira has no wish to share the video with the world. The racist slur bothers her, but what troubles her more is her lack of a proper job which she feels would have given her some sort of standing in life, protecting her from incidents like that one. ’This wouldn’t have happened if you had a real f****** job,’ she muses to herself. In fact she is more worried that Briar would be taken from her than apalled at the incident itself. Perhaps because the scenario may not have been unusual for her. And that is just sad.
Alix and Kelly, (the man who records the incident) on the other hand are keen for some kind of a redressal. Alix stops shopping at the supermarket while Kelly suggests legal action or getting the guard dismissed, or going to the media.
I liked that this incident didn’t become the central point of the book in the way I had thought it would. That would have been predictable. Rather, it triggers something entirely unexpected.
The friendships in Such a Fun Age
Alix has a set of three friends who are almost cliquey in the way they interact. Even though Alix reaches out to them for every decision, specially when it has to do with Emira, I didn’t get a warm vibe from the group. It was somewhat similar with Emira who also has three friends she hangs out with. However, it is only with one of them (Zara) that I see a real connection.
….was a little tame but then it was somewhat in keeping with Emira’s character. It would have been odd if she had suddenly turned into an ambitious go-getter with a high-flying job. However, with her knack for children, I’d seen her as a full-time nanny. Come to think of it the job Alix offered her was quite perfect. But I’ll let that go.
If you like books that explore diversity you might want to read my review of Girl, Woman, Other.
Good Intentions aren’t everything
That is my biggest takeaway. The worst situations in the book arise from the best intentions. There’s the white woman who calls for the security guard at the supermarket with the intention of protecting Briar.
Then there’s Alix who feels her interest in Emira gives her some kind of right to manage her life. So consumed is she with her own good intentions that she doesn’t bother to check if that’s what Emira wants. In fact, no one is bothered about what Emira wants, not Alix or Kelly or Tamra (Alix’s friend who is also black and so feels she can have a say in Emira’s ‘upliftment’).
Before I wrap up I have one small complaint (there always is one, right?)
It’s the dialogue. Look at this: “Why you tryna play one-drop rule right now?” I don’t know if this is how youngsters these days talk to each other but it didn’t work for me.
Also, I still haven’t been able to work out the thought behind the title.
That aside, Such a Fun Age is a wonderfully layered account making it hard to put characters into protagonist-antagonist brackets. It talks about race and class and privilege without getting heavy or preachy.
If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’ve reviewed it leave your link in the comments and I’ll drop by.
Last Thought: If books on race and class interest you, this one is a must-read.