Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: December 31, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Debut, Fiction, New Adult, Social Issues
Emira Tucker is struggling with adulthood. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do. The only job she enjoys is babysitting two-year-old Briar. So, when Briar’s mother calls on a Saturday night asking if Emira can come and get the little girl she says yes. From there things in Such a Fun Age get bad fast. A store security guard decides that Emira has kidnapped Briar, because she is black and Briar is white. Someone records the event and only the arrival of Briar’s father puts an end to the harassment. But not to the fallout in Emira’s life and that of Briar’s mother, Alix. Suddenly, what was a straightforward arrangement becomes weighted down with good intentions, misunderstandings, and questionable motives.
There’s a lot to unpack in Such a Fun Age. Debut author Kiley Reid does an admirable job digging out and shaking off items most of us are going to find scratchy and uncomfortable. Alix takes the security guard encounter and uses it to build a ‘relationship’ with Emira. Taking a sudden and intense interest in Emira’s life—something she’s not done before. Initially, it seems well-meaning on the surface, but soon reads like self-serving tokenism.
Alix fantasized about Emira discovering things about her that shaped what Alix saw as the truest version of herself. Like the fact that one of Alix’s closest friends was also black…That Alix had read everything that Toni Morrison had ever written.
Which is cringe-worthy.
As Alix is pushing her friendship on Emira, Emira meets Kelley, the white man who recorded the store event. They’re soon dating and as Alix is trying to bring her into her circle, Kelley wants to pull her out. He questions everything about the job and how Emira is treated. He wants her to sue to the store. When she brings him to a party at Alix’s house it sets off a powder keg of reactions because Kelley and Alix know each other.
And that is where Such a Fun Age starts to lose me. Reid perfectly captures Emira’s character—her confusion about what to do with her life, her fears about losing her health insurance, and her loving relationship with Briar. She is relatable. So, why give emphasis to two characters who are nothing more than the drunk uncles at the party? They’re cardboard caricatures and through them events escalated to the point of disbelief and annoyance on my part.
Which is not to say they ruined the novel. Thanks to her finesse, Reid circles round and lets the larger story prevail. It’s just that I felt such confidence in her writing that adding these outrageous elements was unnecessary. It detracted from the nuances of Emira and even little Briar and the many shades of racism she exposed. Such a Fun Age is still good reading, but, given the hype surrounding it, I expected more.
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