Reece Witherspoon’s Book Club has never steered me wrong, and “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid is no exception. This is Reid’s debut novel and it just came out on Dec. 31, 2019. It was also nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the Debut Author category in 2019.
“Such a Fun Age” follows two women. Alix Chamberlain, a white woman, is a go-getter, a feminist icon and a mother of two young girls. Her brand is all about women’s confidence and standing up for yourself and being an advocate. Emira Tucker, an African-American woman, is Mrs. Chamberlain’s babysitter. At 25, Emira feels aimless and confused, without any kind of direction. She loves Briar Chamberlain, Alix’s older daughter who has a habit of talking a little too much and asking too many questions in Alix’s opinion, but Emira always believed she wouldn’t just be babysitting for the rest of her life.
This story starts when a rock is thrown through Alix’s window and she does not want Briar to see the police. In a rush, she calls Emira, who is out partying with her friends. Emira agrees to come to watch Briar and take her out of the house while the glass is cleaned and the police are called. Emira takes Briar to a high-end grocery store where the toddler loves to look at the tea bags and nuts. While Emira is there with this white child and dressed like she just came from a club (because she did), a woman at the store calls a security guard on Emira and accuses Emira of kidnapping 2-year-old Briar. A bystander films the whole situation and Emira leaves the store feeling ashamed and humiliated. Alix, whose whole brand is standing up for yourself, vows to make this situation right (without Emira really knowing about this vow).
On top of all this, Emira gets a new boyfriend, Kelley, a white man. He also happens to be Alix’s high school boyfriend—and things ended badly between the two. Not only do these two people have extremely strong opinions on what Emira should do with her life (without really taking in Emira’s opinion or the opportunities available to her) and almost seem to fight over her in the novel, we don’t hear much from Kelley’s point of view since the book is focused on the two women. I feel like this leaves the reader wondering “Who’s going to come out on top? Whose side will Emira be on?”
Since this book just came out, it is very full of social commentary that is so relevant to today. The story explores transactional relationships, the meaning of “family,” white feminism, parenthood, what success looks like and so much more. I have to say I loved how the character of Alix was written (even though I don’t much care for Alix herself) because she challenges readers, especially white readers, to question their motives when helping others. She makes readers ask, “Do the means justify the ends?” I believe she is a perfect example of the “white savior complex” without completely falling into that stereotype, showing how this complex could be in anyone and prompting the reader to think critically about our decisions when they involve others.
I also loved the relationship between Emira and Briar. Emira picks up that Alix seems to favor her younger daughter, who is a quiet and mild baby, whereas Briar is a rambunctious, inquisitive toddler. Even though Emira knows it is not her job to completely raise Briar, she wants Briar to know she matters. This was a great parallel between Alix’s foundation of raising women up and standing up for themselves but ignoring her daughter almost completely because of her questioning and odd nature.
Reid never made one character inherently “bad” or “evil”; there is no direct villain but rather people whose lives are all intertwined in a weird way and it’s the reader’s job to figure out, “Okay, how did we get here? Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? Is this justifiable?” I love authors that never hand you a solution because it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and promotes great discussion, which I believe was Reid’s goal.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves contemporary fiction, adult fiction, looking closely at American social issues or wants to diversify their bookshelf.