“Cringy, uncomfortable and fun.” According to Kiley Reid, these are the three words most readers have used to describe her bestselling debut novel Such a Fun Age1. And I think I couldn’t have come up with any better terms to describe the book myself. Such a Fun Age is smart, witty and funny, but at the same time, it’s also filled with poignant social commentary that’s meant to make you feel extremely uncomfortable.
Such a Fun Age centres around two women who couldn’t be more different. Emira Tucker is a black 25-year-old former English major. She’s currently working two jobs as she struggles to pay rent, keep her health insurance, and figure out what she wants to do with her life. Alix Chamberlain is a 33-year-old white, upper-class mom influencer who cares more about her reputation than her oldest daughter. Emira works part-time as a babysitter for Alix’s oldest daughter Briar. Their relationship is rather distant, but when Emira is stopped by a security guard at a high-end grocery store and accused of kidnapping little Briar, everything changes. Consumed with white guilt and determined to make things right, Alix decides she must finally get to know Emira.
In a book talk, Reid described her book as being about “everyday domestic biases that we don’t even know we have.”1 The character of Alix is an extreme case in point. She prides herself on her progressive status, but at no point in the story does she actually reflect on her own prejudices. That Alix isn’t as unprejudiced as she considers herself to be is clear from the first time she meets Emira. Having found Emira’s profile on SitterTown.com, the only profile without a picture, Alix can’t contain her surprise when she opens the door. The first thing that springs to her mind is “Huh.” Emira is black.
“I wanted to explore these instances of racial biases that don’t end in violence as a way of highlighting those moments that we don’t see on the news but still exist every day.”–Kiley Reid in an interview with Lauren Bufferd
Even when Alix decides to learn more about her sitter, a plan that soon turns into an obsession, she isn’t really interested in learning more about Emira as a person. Her interest in Emira is much more self-serving and shallow. She never questions the broader racial and economic system Emira’s trapped in but uses her proximity to affirm her own progressiveness. She thinks that if she can get Emira to like her this will prove that she’s a good person. But considering oneself ‘woke’, that is being consciously aware of social problems such as racism and inequality, isn’t the same as being woke. Therefore, Reid challenges us to reconsider our own biases. Are we really as progressive as we fashion ourselves to be?
Meanwhile, Emira is just trying to sort out her life. She’s about to be kicked off her parents’ health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. While all of her friends have thriving careers, she’s broke, aimless and worried her friends will ditch her. The irony is that while Alix obsesses over how to act in front of Emira, her sitter is busy getting on with her own life.
I honestly enjoyed this novel. Though there isn’t much happening plot-wise, the writing style kept me turning pages and the characters are well-drawn. Reid explores themes of race, class, privilege and identity in really nuanced and intriguing ways. At the same time, the novel also has some hilarious parts that will just make you laugh out loud. Overall, a thought-provoking, gripping but also entertaining debut novel that lived up to the hype for me.
Have you read Such a Fun Age? How did you like it? Let me know in the comment section below!