Our April LWLShelf x Literally.PDX book club pick, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, has got to be one of my favorites yet. Kiley Reid’s debut novel is all things hilarious, cringeworthy and totally engrossing, to the point that I couldn’t put it down.
Such A Fun Age flips back and forth between two protagonists - Emira, a 25-year-old black woman who works part time as a typist and the other part as a babysitter, and Alix Chamberlain (pronounced uh-LEEX), an early-thirties white woman who is semi-Instagram famous for breastfeeding her infant daughter on an event stage, and who employs Emira to watch her children.
Late one night, after an egg is thrown through a window of the Chamberlain home, Emira is called from a party to take the oldest child, Briar, out of the house while the police are called. Emira and a friend take Briar to a grocery store in the Chamberlain’s neighborhood, where they have an impromptu dance party in one of the aisles. And that’s where the fun stops. A security guard is called and the girls are detained in the store, where a verbal altercation ensues. The store’s white patrons, only moments after smiling at the dancing girls, are convinced that Emira and her friend (who is also black) have kidnapped Briar. A white guy steps in to record the situation on his phone, Briar’s white father is called to the scene, and that’s that. Sort of.
Alix’s growing fascination with Emira begins to border on a crush-like fixation, and the connection between them, made more complicated by Reid’s exploration of race and class, grows more tangled by the day. Emira’s sweet relationship with Briar is central to the plotline, as is Alix’s fixation on getting closer to Emira, to both figuring her out and fixing her. This fixation becomes doubly complicated when a part of Alix’s past, her high school boyfriend, literally shows up on her doorstep. Looming over everything is the tape of the grocery store altercation, sitting on the nice white guy’s phone.
It’s a lot, I know. But trust me when I tell you that you must read this book. During our book club discussion we talked a lot about the most cringeworthy moments in the book. As a white woman reading about the cringe worthiness of other white people fetishizing black culture, there were honestly too many for me to count. Writing from Alix’s perspective, Reid does a fantastic job at capturing the often frustrating contradictions of the modern woke liberal, which makes her characters feel multi-faceted, and, honestly, relatable.
Reid’s exploration of racial and class-based power dynamics, the naiveté of youth, the objectification of black culture, and the unconscious biases we all have, are all wrapped up in a satirical, wonderfully written package. I hope you’ll give it a look!